Refusing to Shrink Back

“But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated… My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” – Hebrews 10:32-33, 38-39

On June 26, 2015 I was sitting in a hotel conference room in Cleveland with a group of other UCC clergy. I was trying to pay attention to the speaker but, to be honest, I was obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed. The Supreme Court of the United States was about to let the world know whether or not the marriages of countless same-sex couples would now be legal across the land, including my own.

Karl Barth was once asked, “What is the nature of church?” by a young student at a lecture. He responded, “The church is wherever two or more are gathered, and you are understood at your deepest level.”

The moment the Supreme Court decision reached us in Cleveland, the entire room broke out into applause, tears, and praise. We prayed together, and we sang the doxology.

In that room were a number of married LGBTQ people who had just been fully understood by the law of the land for the first time in their lives. And there were also allies, who understood what that moment meant for us at our deepest level. It was church.

And it was church when later that day my wife and I embraced on the streets of Cleveland, a place where hours before our marriage had not been recognized.

Because good people of faith refused to “shrink back”, both in our churches and in our country, so many of us are not lost. We can now be known at our deepest levels in so many places. I am so thankful for that, and for all those people of faithful courage. And in the struggles still to come, I hope I can do the same for others.

(And, Heidi Carrington Heath, I am so thankful that three years ago today, even before the end of this story was told, you walked down the aisle at Old South Church and found me waiting there. And you said “I do” to a lifetime of knowing each other at our deepest levels. Thank you for teaching me about church.)


Dear God, thank you for knowing us at our deepest level, and for loving us. And thank you for those who refuse to shrink back from doing the same. Amen. 

dd-emilyheath.jpgAbout the Author
Emily C. Heath is Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire. She is a frequent Huffington Post blogger and a regular contributor to the UCC’s NewSacred