Good Times and Bad Times
The following is a contribution by an openly gay person commissioned to Diaconal Ministry in the United Church of Canada.
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“Aren’t the two you afraid of having a prolapsed rectum?”
And this was my introduction to the United Church of Canada.
I like to think of myself as a gay activist in the United Church and have many stories to tell.
Today, I will centre on 1 longer story that is both good and bad.
The question above was asked of my partner, John Robertson, and I in 1984. We were both Roman Catholics and active in Dignity Canada Dignite, the organization supported of gays and lesbians (those were the only categories then). I was the National Director and John was the Secretary.
We were living in Winnipeg and the General Council of the United Church was meeting in Morden, Manitoba. Commissioners had a few days break and were offered different activities in which they could choose to participate. One of them was called, “A Weekend with the Invisible Christians”, meaning gays and lesbians.
John and I agreed to host 2 folks. I met them at the Gay resource Centre and we walked to our apartment. I introduced them to John and as John reached out to say welcome, we got the question above.
I was taken aback and replied, “First, you’ve assumed a relationship between us which may or may not exist; second, you’ve assumed a sexual practice between us which may or may not exist and third you’ve assumed we care so little for each other, we aren’t concerned about the health of the other person. Which question would you like answered first?”
It was a tough weekend. That person left without saying goodbye or thanks. We said, “If that’s the United Church, we want nothing to do with it.”
So how did I become a minister?
Shortly after this, I left the Roman Catholic Church. It was clear that the acceptance of GLBTQ persons wasn’t anywhere in their near future.
As I prepared my farewell speech to Dignity Canada Dignite, I found this passage from Romans 9:26 (also in Hosea 1:10), “And in the very place where it was said, ‘You are not my people,’ there they shall be called children of the living God.”
I used that passage as a promise that someday the Roman Catholic Church would accept us for who we are.
Young United Church was a half block from our apartment and a friend asked me to come and talk to them about life as a Gay Christian.
These were not the same people we met in 1984! They were gracious and listened and asked questions and gave me challenges but they wanted to learn and they wanted the church to be a safe place for me and folks like me.
I was impressed and in early 1988, became a member of the United Church.
Through a series of other events (more stories) I found myself drawn to being a minister. I resisted for a while. Then I agreed to do Diaconal training but wanted to remain a lay person. The course began in 1989 and I would be the first openly gay person to be Commissioned to Diaconal Ministry. I didn’t want that. Let someone else be the first. I was tired of being active in my faith denomination and trying to push for acceptance.
Then I went to a church service with a friend who was also going to take the same course. The service reading was Elijah in the cave. And God said, “Come out.” Really?
Elijah replied, “But they are killing all of us.” And God said, “Come out.” I didn’t feel comfortable hearing that.
The reflection was on taking risks to live out your faith and the song was about take up your cross and follow me. I went pale and sat down. My friend asked if I was ok. I said, “No, I’m going to be a minister.”
In 1994, exactly 10 years after the question asked above, I was Commissioned – in Morden.
“And in the very place where it was said, ‘You are not my people,’ there they shall be called children of the living God.”
I quoted that passage in my speech to the Conference. God’s promises come true.
And I was settled at Winnipeg Church of the Deaf. I knew no American Sign Language, but they were thrilled to have me because I know what it’s like to be part of an invisible minority and I know how to be an activist.
My orientation was a gift to them.
More stories later of the good and the bad.
But this is what I experience in the United Church around the 1988 statement.
I will talk about my being Commissioner in 1990 in London when the issue was reaffirmed later.
(Shared with permission. Photo credit: Wix stock photography.)