Our pastor Rev. Dr. Wm. Blake Spencer, we call him Blake (he, him, his) was born and raised in Texas and has served in ordained positions for more than 30 years, having ministered in Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee prior to coming to Ocean Heights Presbyterian Church.
Blake received his Masters of Divinity from the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry from Southern Methodist University/Perkins Seminary in Dallas, Texas. Blake is the proud father of Wayde and Madeleine and three grandchildren. Blake lives with his husband Jim and Boo the cat in Cape May County.
On June 10, 2011 the Book of Order was officially changed to reflect the vote of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to allow the ordination of LGBTQIA+ teaching and ruling elders. I remember the day clearly. At the time I was serving Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville as the Interim Head of Staff. Despite Second Presbyterian’s More Light Presbyterian status, I chose not to reveal my orientation/identity as a gay man, fearing my ability to secure a permanent installed position. However, my fear became insignificant the day my mother told me she had made an appointment with the pastor serving the church where I was baptized and where she has been a member for over 70 years. Her minister had clearly indicated he opposed the ordination of homosexuals. My mother told me she intended to defend my baptism. When she told me this, I decided to come out in the pulpit the Sunday before her Monday morning meeting with her pastor. The love and support of my parents was far more important than one more minute of fear. If I were to continue serving in the church I would do so as a fully out gay man. During an interview with the Pastor Nominating Committee of The Presbyterian Church of Pleasantville, New Jersey (The church changed its name to Ocean Heights Presbyterian Church after moving to Egg Harbor Township, NJ in 2012) I asked what it meant that they used the word progressive to describe their ministry. I was told the church welcomed gay people. I asked how many in the church were gay. One of the committee members raised her hand to indicate she was. I immediately told the committee that I was gay. The interview went well as did subsequent interviews and meetings. Though there were questions pertaining to my orientation/identity, the Pastor Nominating Committee unanimously extended the call to serve as their installed pastor. I accepted. The next step would be to navigate examination by the Committee on Ministry (COM) of the Presbytery. Before that day arrived, I had several phone conversations with Reverend Dr. Debby Brincivalli, the Executive Presbyter of The Presbytery of West Jersey. She indicated the divided nature of the Presbytery concerning the recent vote on ordination standards. I remember being asked if I had a partner. I also remember the relief that came when I answered that I did not. It would make the process easier I was told. I was as ready and courageous as I could be at the time since there was still so much that was unknown. The examination of the COM happened via an internet connection. The questions indicated that the members of the Committee knew little about me. I was approved. I would next stand before the Presbytery for their vote to make way for me to serve. Incoming pastors already ordained are not given the floor to speak on the night the Presbytery votes. I was simply introduced and asked to silently stand before the body. Because I could not speak, I spoke with my clothing and my body language. The Presbytery voted overwhelmingly to approve my call. Two men who voted not to receive me into the Presbytery both spoke to me after the meeting and asked that I not take their no vote personally. But I am a person and not an issue.As I currently write, I am in my ninth year (2021) of ministry in Egg Harbor Township. The calling has been a journey of ups and downs. I had to learn what it feels like to walk into the Presbytery during debate about same-sex marriage and not be seen as a person by some but the issue. And yet, I persevere, as does the congregation I serve. We have learned that it is a challenge, even for a progressive church, to become fully affirming. We officially became a More Light Presbyterian Congregation in 2013. During the journey members voiced fear of becoming a congregation that was known for being too gay. In the end, these questions helped us to clarify who we are. We have worked in our community supporting the passing of a Transgender Policy in the Egg Harbor Township School District, helped to establish a PFLAG support group, baptized a transgender teen, celebrated a Sunday morning marriage of two women in our congregation and sponsored a photographic art exhibit in our sanctuary depicting transgender and gender non-binary people from around the world.I am proud to be the first out gay installed pastor in this Presbytery. I am thankful for the support and care I have received from my Executive Presbyter. I am most proud of Ocean Heights Presbyterian Church, a congregation that continues to take risks only to discover just how deep and wide God’s love is. It is my hope that the larger church will continue live into such risks that the day might come when the full inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community might not be treated as a local option for congregations and governing bodies.