I have resisted the invitation to participate in Iridesce. After 35 years of ministry and on the cusp of retirement, I am surprised at how angry I am with the church. By 1988, I was in my second pastoral charge and preparing to head off for General Council in Victoria as a very closeted lesbian. Delegates were lobbied from the time they were elected at Conference meetings until the time we left for Victoria and even while we were there. What do I remember about Victoria? Lots and lots of lobbying and people putting themselves on the line to try and make a place at the table for LGBTQ folks. I remember the folks who wanted to keep us out, literally taking names any chance they got. I remember really nasty anti-gay comments made at microphones and the presence of “the ex gays” to assure us there was hope beyond “our disease.”
I remember the care and commitment of Marion Best and the community of Affirm folks who wept together and encouraged each other. For the record, I want to share of the first names of these folks who helped forge a path for us: Marion, Bill, barb, Erin, Sally, Brian, Bill, John, Mary, and so many others. The stories of these early activists are largely lost, as is the work of Affirm in its early years, before straight people seemed to lend legitimacy to the movement.
When it was all said and done at Victoria, to great celebration and hopefulness, I remember arriving back on the pastoral charge to a hornet’s nest of outrage. The first phone call I received at home was anonymous, “You’d better be prepared to leave!” There was really no institutional support for LGBTQ order of ministry folks. No one bothered to find out how we were faring as the church unfolded around us. Colleagues were too busy dealing with the fall out to pay particular attention to their frightened LGBTQ friends in pastoral ministry. Though Affirm did its best to invite an ongoing dialogue with the straight church, by and large no one took us up on the offer. The church was too busy trying to salvage what they could out of the messy aftermath of Victoria, which of course, was “our fault.”
I left pastoral ministry entirely for the next five years working in a church based outreach project. When the outreach project lost its funding, we were forced to close the doors and I found myself unemployed. I hoped to move in with my partner who was serving a parish in the same conference region. Living in a manse at the time, she informed her church board I would be moving in. It all seemed to go swimmingly well, until the afternoon the phone rang and a colleague in ministry let us know he had received a call from the board chair in her charge asking if we were in a lesbian relationship. I wish I could describe the fear both of us felt, the sorrow and the outrage on learning that one of our colleagues (a saint in the presbytery) had outed us to members of her charge. The move-in never took place and my partner began looking for another job.
Over the years we learned not to trust the institution and its representatives. It’s been a tough sell for “long in the tooth” folks like us to trust that the “church” is really interested in dialogue, let alone trust in the authenticity of an apology. To be honest, I won’t be sorry to retire. I am hoping the end of my professional relationship with the church will mean a liberation from the anger and fear I’ve carried for many years. I pray for younger LGBTQ colleagues who still love the church and give themselves to it fearlessly. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be free. May you find affirmation and places to share your ministry with authenticity and integrity.
(Shared with permission. Photo: Wix.)