There are those times when, deep in processing my own thoughts, a person approaches and--wham--a new insight to what had been my own private puzzle. Such was the case as I paced about in Eve's Garden at St. John's before the service yesterday.
A woman emerged from the parish hall doors and saw me as I was on another turn of walking past the sitting benches. She strode purposely toward me, smiling the whole way. She greeted me warmly, and introduced herself. We shook hands and then, dropping her voice a little bit, she says, "I'm going to be blunt. Are you a homosexual?"
That was not only blunt; it is the first time anyone has been that direct with me, especially in a church setting, in the two-plus decades since I came out! Most people will say "Um, I kinda think maybe you might be". Even my own mother didn't ask me the question that way. Strangely, while it hit me like an "Oh, wow! OK, then!", I guess I'm so comfortable in my own skin that I answered confidently and quickly, "Yes."
She went on to explain that her reason for asking me such a bold and blunt question was that she had a family member who had just come out, and her big question is can one be gay and active in the ordained leadership of the Episcopal Church. And this is when I wanted to find that belly of the whale and leap into it rather than to talk about this subject.
In the United States, it really depends where you live and move and have your being just how far the welcome into the church will be extended to you if you are gay. I read about lots of gay and lesbian clergy all over the country, engaging the church in all kinds of ways, and bearing witness to the church that one can be part of this body of Christ and be queer and serve at the altar and... my goodness... NOBODY drops dead in the aisle! Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Table happen just like they do when straight priests are presiding. The gospel is still the gospel, even when it is coming out of the mouth of a queer deacon. In fact, one could argue, a lesbian reading the words of Christ that sing of liberation and freedom for all might seem appropriate if sadly paradoxical.
The writhing that I am witnessing in the church over issues of sexuality has been at times enormously painful. Not too dissimilar to what it is like to have my life put up for a public vote to decide whether I am fit to marry my partner, or adopt a child, or be protected from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, or employment. Most of the time, I try to ignore it and chalk it up to so much noise in the life of the institution. But, to be honest, I am fed up with being a political football. I just want to live and let live. And yet the laws don't allow me to forget that I am not equal. Similarly, there is "the law" that seems to hang like a sword of Damocles over the Episcopal Church. General Conventions can vote to do whatever they want to do, but everyone is so careful to say that there is room for "interpretation" about what the actions really mean. End result: you can have one diocese running full-steam ahead to include all the baptized in as many of the sacraments as it can while another has pulled the brake line on the whole thing... and may even try to leave the tracks.
These were the thoughts going through my head as I paced about in the Garden, examining all the dedicated spaces and crosses in memory of members of the church. My question: "Do I really have a place here?" Enter this woman with her question about the Episcopal Church and the future it may hold for her gay relative. She told me the diocese (it was one I have heard is gay-friendly) and I told her that all should be fine in that diocese. And I invited her to join PFLAG.
As we parted, I reflected on my advice to her, and a curiosity at this-- what I might call "God moment"-- where the internal struggle is met with an answer of sorts from the outside. Of course, I can't know for sure what will happen to anyone anywhere in the church. But I am aware that there are places in the Episcopal church where being gay doesn't have to be such an "issue" and that LGBT candidates for ordination don't have to exhibit a kind of "super-righteousness" to prove themselves worthy to be called.
Do I have a place here? Yes, I believe I do.
May the understanding and appreciation of all the myriad of people who God has called to return spread throughout the whole Church and the world.