The question was a fair one. I was attending an LGBTQ event in Alabama and wore my clergy collar.
I had been ordained for less than a year, and while the national Episcopal Church was welcoming of LGBTQ people, that welcome in most churches in Alabama was still very much the Episcopal Church welcomes you, as long as you don't want to be ordained, or married, or open about your sexuality, or talk too much about your sexuality, or celebrate your LGBTQ community, or the myriad of other ways we welcome people with qualifications that have nothing to do with love or welcome.
When my friends invited me to the event, my initial selfish thoughts had been how this would affect me and my ministry, ministry being my comfort and ego. What would happen if the rector or church leaders found out? Would I lose my job? What would the bishop think? Would people think I was a lesbian? How would this upset my seemingly comfortable life and ministry?
You know, those questions that have little to do with being disturbed by God and much more to do with keeping things as they are.
When I mentioned attending this LGBTQ event to some of the church leadership, one couple told me, "We don't want our priests associating with those types and people will think you're a lesbian, so you can't attend."
Which, of course, made me call and accept the invitation faster than Alabama can score a touchdown. God has long since known that the the voice of prejudice telling me not to do something trumps my desire for comfort and status quo.
The event was a lovely dinner, and I was seated next to an older gentleman and his partner of decades. He was polite and cautious in our initial conversations.
Then he asked, "Are you here to tell me I'm a sinner?"
I said, "No."
And I began to explain all about the Episcopal Church welcomes you and how we are created in God's love and how Jesus loves us all, no matter what.
I stopped. I stopped because those words were not entirely truthful. I stopped because in this moment, I didn't need to talk. I needed to hear, to listen. As an ordained person of the church, I needed to be a witness to how Christianity had behaved with anything but love to him. I stopped because the church has talked too much about loving our neighbors while refusing to love our LGBTQ neighbors. Too many clergy through the years have accepted the gifts LGBTQ members have shared with the church without accepting the full measure of their holy incarnation.
My voice shook a bit when I spoke. "No, but it sounds like you have been told that by the church. Would you share with me your story?"
In that holy moment, he did. His story is the narrative, I suspect, of so many whose church welcome is qualified if not altogether revoked because of who God created them to be.
He finished, and I breathed. Then he said, "Now, what will you do?"
Jesus is always calling us to love and serve. Sometimes we get very fortunate to experience it clearly.
Now, what will you do?
My do-ing is not all that spectacular. The work of love rarely is. It has been ordinary in the course of days. I've welcomed and petitioned and voted, as many have, for full inclusion and against thinly-veiled resolutions to exclude (if you meet me in person ask about when I voted against a resolution declaring Jesus as our Lord and Savior for this reason). I've marched in Pride and on Washington and married same-sex couples and celebrated the baptisms of their children. I've pointed out language, action, and inaction that empowered hate, sometimes with the Southern "Bless your heart" way and sometimes in a NSFW way. I have been one small drop of a great wave of love, and I have stood on the shoulders of saints who came before me.
I have, as many have, paid a price. The pressure to speak out against the ordination to the Episcopate of The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson was great in my diocese. My job was threatened because of my beliefs. All the while, I knew what I experienced was a small amount of the discrimination and hate LGBTQ people encounter. Let me reiterate that - what I experienced was a small, tiny amount of the discrimination and hate so many have experienced for decades and centuries from the Church and the community.
When the time came for me to follow God's call elsewhere, the first question I asked bishops was, "Is your diocese open and affirming? Because if it's not, cross me off the list."
Trust me, that limits your options in the Church. But God guides and shifts and moves us all on our journeys in time. The arc of time bends toward justice and love, almost imperceptively at times. But it does bend and move.
And sometimes we get to see the bend in all its rainbow glory.
I wore my clergy shirt - again - to an LGBTQ event yesterday. Lexington's annual Pride Festival was Saturday. The Episcopal Church - not just one or two welcoming churches - but the entire diocese, had a booth. As did 7 other churches of various denominations. I actually squealed with delight to see a local Baptist congregation, the faith of my childhood, with a booth.
No one from my congregation warned me about attending. In fact, many of them attended as well and spread the welcome. I commented that I could have just celebrated the Eucharist at Pride and slept in on Sunday. God, I love them so much for how welcoming they are.
As I walked among the booths, meeting and talking to people, an older gentleman approached me.
"Are you a priest? I was Episcopalian for a long time until I got tired of all the shit after Gene Robinson. My partner and I just moved back to town."
I nodded and introduced myself.
"Is your church open and affirming?" he asked.
I felt that place in my chest when my heart is overflowing and the love begins to spill out of my eyes when I get to proclaim an amazing truth. "Yes. You are fully welcome at St. Michael's...and these churches." I handed him our brochure listing the many open and affirming Episcopal churches.
Another couple approached. Both women were wearing tiaras. My kind of women.
"So your church marries people like us, right?"
"People who are committed in love and want God's blessing? Yes, yes we do."
One of the women fist bumped me, and I gave them all my card.
The prism of God's love focused the moment, and light fell on us all. I caught a glimpse of the arc, bending ever slightly, but indeed bending, toward love and justice.
|From the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial|
Photo by Laurie Brock