Ruth is an ordained minister, and was working in team ministery in Toronto, for five years before realizing her sexuality and beginning to come out. Coming out was relatively easy. For her father, a minister and long-time advocate for LGBT rights, Ruth's coming out was a non-issue. Her mother told her that she would always love her. She had a supportive colleague in ministry, who eventually left for another call.
While in team ministry, Ruth and her colleague would have an annual Pride Sunday worship service. Having an annual service seemed a good thing to do in a United Church. However, after each of these Pride services, there were many loudly voiced complaints and strongly worded letters of complaint and dissent.
The two ministers spoke with the congregation to determine how pervasive the opposition was to the Pride service. It turns out it was about half of the congregation.
Iridesce: Why do an annual Pride service, if it was met with so much opposition?
Ruth: Because there were a number of members who had LGBT children or grandchildren. Eventually, the Pride services stopped, and the needs of these members was no longer met.
Iridesce: Well, why stop the Pride service, if it was meeting the needs of some of the congregation?
Ruth: Because the people who made the most financial contributions to the church were the loud dissenters. It was determined by the M&P person, that alienating the core financial givers in the church would lead to them leaving the church, and the church's quick downfall.
So, Ruth was urged and told by her M&P Committee not to come out as it would “ruin the congregation”. The logic for the M&P person/committee was that if Ruth came out it would lead to the demise of their church. This was faulty logic, and a huge burden to place on the minister.
This was greatly troubling, because it caused Ruth to seriously consider her authenticity as a minister and as a person. She asked, “How can I effectively minister to a congregation when I am being inauthentic by being 'in the closet’?”
The stress on Ruth was deeply troubling. Eventually, Ruth had to—and decided to—leave her pastoral charge. She now works at the General Council Office in Mission & Service, and attends St. Andrew’s United in downtown Toronto.
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There was trouble in the past concerning LGBT issues, for Ruth in high school. She had a girlfriend in high school, but became terrified when another friend of theirs was violently attacked in a gay-bashing. Ruth broke up with her girlfriend, and went deeply into the closet. It wasn't until decades later that Ruth was able to revisit her sexuality…
Ruth: ”Don't be afraid" takes on a whole new meaning when you are queer.
Iridesce: What do you mean by that?
Ruth: It means don't be afraid of who you are, and don't be afraid to be authentic.
Iridesce: Where has God been for you during all this?
Ruth: God has always been there. It's Jesus that I've had trouble with. When I went to Nicaragua I learned about a new way to experience Jesus, that was different from my Sunday School Judgement-Jesus… seperating the sheep from the goats. The radical Jesus I learned about in Nicaragua was accepting of everyone, making sure that everyone was included. That was why he suffered. Jesus as seen through liberation theology. When I came back to Canada, that is the Jesus that I follow: the radical Jesus.
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With thanks to Ruth. As shared with the Coordinator of Iridesce.