I knew this day was coming, but I didn’t know it had arrived. If not for a Facebook message from a friend, it would have quietly passed me by.

Today the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church voted to remove me from their ministerium. To be fair, they were just rubber stamping my own resignation from last July. But still, there is a finality about it. A deep sadness.

When I stumbled into the Covenant in 2000, I had no idea how much I would come to love this amazing denomination. I was honored to serve it for sixteen years. In that time, I made friends I will treasure for the rest of my life, and I learned so much about social justice, racial righteousness and worship. I laughed and cried and prayed and ate and worked and served and lived my life alongside these wonderful people. I was privileged to lead worship for Midwinter one year, and I was active in our online community of worship leaders, Better Together.

When I was serving at Redeemer Covenant in Tulsa, they started calling me “Captain Covenant.” I was always a cheerleader for our denomination in my churches.

When I came out for the first time, back in 2002, I found remarkable love and grace in the Covenant. I was able to tell the truth, to share my deepest, darkest secrets, and to still find myself welcomed and loved. From my senior pastor at the time to our conference superintendent to the executive minister of the board of the ordered ministry, I was loved and affirmed and blessed. They paid for counseling and for retreats. They invested in me as a minister and as a human being. I have nothing but praise for the way they handled me and my story at the time.

I believe now that we were all operating on misinformation. It was well-intentioned but misguided. You can’t change sexual orientation. Mixed-orientation marriages rarely survive, let alone thrive. But we were all operating in faith and acting on the best understanding we all had at the time.

Just to be clear, I don’t blame the Covenant for what happened to me. I made my choices and I live with the consequences. But I do hope and pray that my beloved church family will one day wake up and welcome all people into all areas of church life and ministry regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

As I say goodbye to my beloved Covenant tonight, I thought I’d share my (somewhat edited) resignation letter.

July 15, 2016

Dear Board of the Ordered Ministry,

I have come to a pivotal decision that has major implications for my family. After a lifetime of struggling to live as a straight man, I have finally decided to live authentically as an openly gay man.

I have known I was gay since I was ten years old. Believing this was wrong, and hoping I could be healed, I followed my dream of marrying a woman, having children and working in vocational ministry. After eight years of marriage, I chose to be real with myself and God, and I told the truth to Luanne, along with some close friends and church leaders. This was a very painful time, however we were committed to our marriage, to our family and to walking this journey together.

Years of “ex-gay” therapy, marriage counseling, healing prayer, workshops, books, journaling, retreats, accountability and recovery groups did not have the desired and promised outcome. I believe I have done everything possible to make my marriage thrive, however I now understand that I always have been and always will be gay. This is a part of my identity, not an “issue” that I struggle with. And I have come to accept it as normal and healthy for me.

I believe that sexuality is deeply ingrained in each human being. It is a gift, part of our design, and to deny it and try to live in a way that represses and hides it causes great damage to everyone. This process of my coming out and leaving our marriage is so painful, but it is a necessary corrective, a way of repenting for the damage done in attempting to thwart God’s intentions.

If my ministry of music, worship, preaching, leadership or pastoral care has ever impacted anyone over my sixteen years in Covenant ministry, I sincerely believe it is because God was working in and through me. It has always been and always will be my heart’s desire that God is glorified in my life.

I love Jesus and I love the Evangelical Covenant Church. For sixteen years it has been my privilege to serve this church, and you are my dearest brothers and sisters in Christ. It breaks my heart to leave you, but I acknowledge that my decision to leave my marriage and live as an openly gay man puts me out of alignment with the denomination’s stated guidelines on human sexuality and the ethical principles for Covenant ministers, and so I resign my ministerial credentials effective immediately.

With much love,

Matt Nightingale

In closing, I want to highlight the work of Mission Friends 4 Inclusion, whose mission states: “We embrace the diversity of the Body of Christ and advocate for the freedom of Evangelical Covenant churches to fully include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” I am grateful for this wonderful organization made up of dear friends who are working tirelessly to advocate for people like me in the ECC. Special thanks to the board members who are boldly putting their names and faces out there: Elliot VosIngrid OlsonAndrew FreemanKrista Brumberg Stevens and Lisa Peterson.

And thank you to the Covenant pastors who are out there quietly ministering to LGBTQ people and advocating for justice and inclusion in the ECC. There are SO many. I am grateful for each one of you.