I was asked recently how big an issue marriage equality and LGBTQ inclusion and rights were in my ministry. I think it was a good question. And there are times when I suppose it might seem to those who listen to me or read my blog that it seems to be a pretty significant part of how I view my ministry and calling at this point in my life.
I shared my answer and said I do not want to be seen as a one issue pastor. I am oriented and focused on not only my own, but on the Spiritual journey of the church I am fortunate enough to serve as well as those I serve with. I am involved and share ministry in the areas of hunger and poverty, theology and study, prayer and inviting disciples, creation care and sustainable choices, nurturing and encouraging an active, living, loving faith in Christ.
That being said, I believe a large part of my own faith and calling, at this point in my journey, focuses on social justice for all. And, as a result, I am going to give significant voice to justice and equality for the LGBTQ persons I serve and love. I would hope if this were the 1930’s and before I would be a voice against child labor, or the 1950’s and 1960’s, while serving the broad range of church and world concerns, I would be investing significant time and energy to the cause of civil rights and the rights of women in society and the church. LGBTQ equality in the world and in the church is on the forefront of society and culture as well as the church and as long as there is injustice, I will be a voice in support these persons who are being oppressed and unjustly excluded, as well as a voice for the poor, marginalized, hungry, women’s rights, care of creation, serious study and scholarship, practices of prayer, faith, and love.
That was perhaps a long intro into a story I want to share. It was brought to mind after reading a Reconciling Ministries Blog on this snowy morning at home. Here is the link if you would like to read it yourself; http://www.rmnblog.org/2014/02/walking-in-other-peoples-shoes.html. The blog invites LGBTQ persons to share their stories in part so others might know what it might look like, feel like to walk in their shoes. I am a straight ally of my Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transsexual, and Queer brothers and sisters, but I thought I would take this opportunity to share my story as well.
I do not remember the exact point in my seminary journey, but I would say probably late in my third year. I was taking a human sexuality class as an elective to help with my counseling skills once I graduated. I had for some time been a quiet supporter of LGBTQ inclusion and equality without much background or experience to really speak to it either at the seminary or in the churches I served at the time.
There was a young woman in the class who was very openly lesbian; she was charming, witty, and well, just a hoot to be around. She had a wonderful sense of humor and I really enjoyed her participation in the class and our few interactions outside the class.
One day following class we were walking toward the dining hall and she was directly in front of me and I decided to take a chance. I sped up next to her, I will call her Brenda as I have not secured permission to use her name in a story, and asked, “Brenda, would you be willing or have time to tell me your story? I’m straight, and well, I don’t understand, and probably can’t on a deep level, but I want to. Is that something you would be willing to do?” Brenda looked at me and said, “Of course!” I was greatly relieved and said something along the line of, “Whew! I was a little nervous as to how you would respond.” She replied, “What did you think I was going to do hit you with my book bag?” “Didn’t know,” I said.
We made time over the next several weeks to meet over coffee or lunch to talk. Brenda told me her life story, the pain, the heartaches, the rejections, the relationships good and bad, the struggle to be who she was meant to be. Our times together were filled with tears and much laughter, and for me these visits were sacred time as I found deeper understanding of what my friend, and so many others like her, had been through in order to embrace who God had created her to be. I have lost touch with Brenda over the years. The last significant contact I had with her was in preparation for my ordination. I had sent her a note to participate in stole TruDee was making for me. TruDee had me make a list of persons who had a significant role in my Spiritual journey. She then sent the notecards to share a scripture, a quote, or a thought with their signature. TruDee then transferred that information to fabric and created my favorite stone. Brenda returned her card with words to this effect, “On your journey in the church, don’t forget to check outside in the church yard for those who have been left behind.”
That quote and Brenda’s story has shaped my ministry ever since. I will never forget those weeks of conversation and though I have lost touch with Brenda I will never forget how she changed my life, my perspective, my understanding, and my commitment to the cause of equality, inclusion, and justice for all, until that day, ALL of God’s children are welcome on both sides of the table of grace and love.
Rev. Kent H. Little