Feeds:
Posts
Comments

A Story in Three Parts

wp_20160710_22_42_42_pro

Rainbow lights for Victoria Pride

My coming out is a story in three parts.

The first was coming out to myself.

That might seem hard to believe.  The common coming out story about always knowing and living in denial is not my story.

For approximately 40 years of my life, I had no idea I was queer. The closet I lived in was big enough and dark enough that I didn’t have any conscious idea I was not straight. Until I was in my forties and on a retreat where I learned to stop and listen to what my body was telling me, I had never questioned my sexuality.

I had grown to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community.  The day I realized I needed to leave the church where I was working as a youth pastor was the day I realized that I could not minister in a church or a denomination that was willing to draw lines in the theological sand about equal marriage because of fear and prejudice. I remember my heart breaking at our denominational meetings when the vote was announced and the denomination decided that they would remove the credentials of any pastor who chose to perform a same gender wedding. I was upset about the lack of justice and the hatred I heard spewed during the discussions. I had no idea that part of my pain was because I was a member of the community that had been clearly labelled as second class citizens, as other. That was in 2004.

In 2012, I attended the Creative Joy Retreat and learned to listen beyond the “shoulds” and the expectations. I never imagined what I would discover. Questions surfaced, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what they meant.

On August 9, 2013, I wrote my way out of the closet. The words spilled out onto the page in front of me. Suddenly so many things in my world made sense. I wasn’t straight. I was queer.

The second was coming out to a friend I knew would support me no matter what.

I knew I wanted to tell this friend from the moment I figured it out. I had helped officiate his wedding to his husband weeks before I went on the retreat that changed everything. But I didn’t know what words to use. How do you explain that you weren’t lying to the people in your life about who you were? You were lying to yourself and you didn’t even realize you were doing that.

If you’re me and you can’t figure out how to say something important, you write it down and it becomes a letter that you give your friend to read. In case you wondered, there are few things that feel more awkward than waiting while your friend reads such a letter.  But when your friend responds with a big hug and the hugest grin of acceptance and pride that you’ve embraced who you really are, all of that awkwardness disappears in an instant. I wish I remembered what date that was, but I don’t. I just remember us sitting downtown under a tree on Government Street.

I told that friend that I didn’t necessarily want to talk about what I’d shared and that I wasn’t sure I was ever telling anyone else. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to answer anyone’s questions about how I’d been so unaware of who I was for so long. I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to explain to friends and family. I was worried about what it would say to the youth I had pastored and led. I wanted to maintain my privacy, because I believed it was no one’s business but by own.

I could not have asked for a better friend to tell. He supported me. He let me figure it out on my own. He was a sounding board and all the way along he encouraged me to be proud of who I was.

The third was deciding to be public; to be out and proud, not just as an ally, but as me.

I didn’t plan to come out.  Part of me feels forced out. I certainly wasn’t ready and I still feel that a person’s sexuality is really their own business and no one else’s. But sometimes things happen that mean you can’t remain silent.

On April 7, 2014, I hit publish on a poem The Price of Hate because I realized that choosing to be silent about my sexuality meant I couldn’t speak with authenticity about things that mattered to me. I shared the post on Facebook and emailed it to my dad and brother.

I was fortunate. My coming out has been met with love and support and understanding. And a remarkably small number of questions about how one gets to be in one’s forties before having any clue about not being straight.

The third part of the story is never done.

Almost everyday there are choices about whether to tell my story. To claim my space. To break people’s assumptions that I am straight. Some days I make the effort. Some days I don’t. I still think it’s no one else’s business.

On the days when I make the choice to allow someone’s unspoken assumption that I am straight to stand, a piece of me feels shame. A piece of me wonders whether I am contributing to the problem.

But some days, I need my privacy and I’m never quite sure how someone will respond. I see the posts on Facebook and I hear the news. I know that not everyone believes I should have the same rights or be treated with the same respect and dignity.

On those days, I remember the poem that I published this year and I decide whether I need to speak out and claim our space despite my inherent need for privacy.

Yesterday was Church Quest visit number two and the destination was James Bay United Church.

welcome-james-bay-united-church

I’ve been inside the building for a number of concerts.  A friend is the music director and he hosts a music series there called a Place to Listen. There is always a sense of quiet welcome when I walk into the building that has made me wonder what it would be like on a Sunday morning.

 

The words on their website have captivated my attention for several years. They talk about church the way it seems like church is meant to be.  When my friend and I started to decide where we would go on this visit, she came across these words and we decided it was the next place for us to go:

It’s a “come as you are” event … no need to dress up unless that’s your delight. Together we’re creating a space in which none of us needs to leave any part of our story behind, nor any hurt or hope at the door. It’s about bringing it all to be met by the love and mercy of God.

The sanctuary is simple with little decoration. My eyes were quickly drawn to something new. There were words clearly displayed on either side of the cross that were repeated on the front of the bulletin.

wp_20160925_10_03_34_pro-1

We are a Christian community from all walks of life growing in trust that God is up to something beautiful here and now, in and through our lives.

So it is that we seek to be known in the neighbourhood as a place where people are tapped into hope, known and love, inspired to risk new ways, and live with purpose and joy.

Whoever you are, and wherever your journey has taken you, rest assured you will find a welcome here.

I am torn between excitement and cynicism about whether I believe a church can really be that kind of place.

Within moments of sitting down an elderly gentleman comes over to welcome us. He tells us he is not the “official” greeter, but he always likes to make sure he says good morning to everyone. He gets lots of hugs that way which, as he tells us, you need when you get to be his age. It’s obvious a hug would be offered if we were so inclined, but there is no pressure, just welcome.

I’m intrigued by the pastor’s words as she begins the morning announcements. She invites the congregation to continue to be aware of their surroundings. They haven’t been meeting in the sanctuary over the summer.  It sounds like they’ve been on a quest of their own. I am inclined that if this place might become home that I will want to know more of their summertime journey.

There is a familiarity to the service, but it is still different enough to mean that I have to pay attention to the details and can’t just fall into old habits about what worship looks like. It’s been a long time since I’ve been at a worship service led by a female pastor. Her warm welcome at the door as we leave definitely make me think that I may choose to return to this place. When she discovers that my friend and I are both looking for a church home, she doesn’t attempt to “sell” us on her church. She offers a blessing that we will find a place that feels like home and encourages us to keep our eyes and hearts open. She is sure that we will find a place.

There is a warmth and quirkiness to this place that I find engaging. There is a lot of grey and hair and few people who are younger than me and yet it doesn’t feel like a church on its last legs. There is a quiet vibrancy. It feels like a church that is being faithful to its community.

I am drawn to this place. It is not what I thought I was looking for and yet … it does feel like there is potential that I could build a home here. There is one problem though, and not with the church, but with me. As much as I want to find a church that could be home, and a church home means being known and involved, I’m not sure I’m ready for that. As much as part of me misses having a church home, there is part of me that wants a place to worship and figure out faith in anonymity.

 

 

 

So I won a Super Pass for this year’s Victoria Fringe Festival. Apparently donating last year during the text to donate campaign was an extra well spent $10, because not only did I support a festival I love, I also get to to see as many shows as I want to see this year for free. Thankfully I also got smart and booked my vacation for the same time so I didn’t have to worry about being up in time for work after seeing a late night show.

I went to the preview on Wednesday morning to finish compiling my list (well at least the list I’m starting with because you never know what else might catch your attention while talking in a Fringe line up). Yesterday I made a plan.  There was a spreadsheet involved. Stop laughing! (Well, okay, keep laughing, ’cause even I think it’s funny to plan my vacation this much, but my mom would be proud of my scheduling skills). If you’re trying to fit in as many shows as possible, a little planning is necessary.

Opening night’s plan was three shows all at Venue 6 – Fairfield Hall.

First up, The Child Behind the Eyesa monodrama by Nava Semel performed by Nava Sarracino.

The Child Behind the Eyes

I’m still trying to figure out how to put words to my thoughts about this piece. At one level it is a simple story of a mother’s love for her child, but it is also a story that kept reminding me how often we only see the outside, make judgments, and miss the beauty of each human being. In this play, the judgments were about a baby boy with Down’s syndrome, but whatever it is that makes us different on the outside doesn’t actually mean that we’re broken.  There is still perfect beauty, if we’re willing to look behind the eyes.

One other thing that struck me in the play was the use of language.  The play was written in the 1980’s and clearly our use of language has changed. There were moments that made me cringe, because we have learned not to use some of those words anymore.  I think we understand more about the power of the words and labels that we use to describe and categorize people.  But at the same time, I couldn’t help but wondering, whether we’ve actually changed the underlying prejudice that some of those words used to reflect.  I hope we have, but … I guess we each have to be our own judges on that question.

Oh!  If you go see the show, make sure you pick up one of the flyers.  There is a link to let you access the music that was created by Christel Veraart for the show.  I haven’t done that yet, but I will be. The music underscoring the show was beautiful.

Rainbow coloured outlines
Painted in the square
Bodies sprawled out
Cut down in the midst of life
Holding hands
Clinging to one another
Around a globe
Only
Two simple words
Remember Orlando

Remember Orlando

Watching countless people
Walk straight across
Eyes averted
Or unaware of
Horror represented
Under their feet

I don’t know
When it appeared
Maybe they’ve seen it
Everyday and grown
Accustomed
Maybe they only see
Rainbow colours
Leftover Pride graffiti
Nothing to see here

I see it today for the first time
My heart weeps
Lives cut short by hate
I stop
Pause
Remember
Reflect

My heart weeps more
I know there is much
Since that horrible night
I know we can’t hold
Everything
Our lives would be
Overwhelmed

But the lack of care
To realize some
Almost certainly
Counts themselves as allies
Their Pride duty done

To hear a parent ignore
A child’s question
Hey look! What is this?
Their response
Hurry the child along
I understand protecting
Innocence
But at what cost?

Clinging

White hetero-normative appearing
Twenty-something couple
Pauses to look
A sliver of my faith restored
Until
Traffic slows
Their words clear
In the silence

Okay. I know some people died, but
Do we really need to have this
Everywhere?

I sit back down
I write
I take photographs
Knowing they are not
For me
I will not forget
But much of the world will

Orlando

A church for all people in the heart of Victoria. St John the Divine

I’m trying to figure out how to write these posts.

One part of me feels like there should be a format or a rating system or something that at the end of this quest will make it clear what church … wins?

But I don’t think that’s how this quest is going to work. It’s not a quest in the traditional sense; there isn’t a holy grail at the end.  There is a hope that I will find a church that I can call home, but after this morning, it’s really clear to me that the point of this quest is not the end result.  The point of this quest is my willingness to go on this journey.

So don’t expect scores or any conclusions about whether the places we visit are good churches or even anything much about the theology of the sermon. If we stumble onto ones that appear to be LGBTQ affirming but don’t feel that way to us, I’m sure that will be apparent in my thoughts.  This is a place to reflect on the journey.

This morning we decided to attend the 10:00 am Parish Eucharist service at The Church of St. John the Divine. St. John’s hosted Pride Church during Victoria Pride and attending their Pride Church Evensong service was the catalyst that led us to start this quest so it seemed right that our first stop would be there.

I was raised in a Baptist church.  Not the really over-the-top conservative sort, but traditional enough.  The closest that we got to liturgy was the inclusion of an advent wreath at Christmas time.  I did spend time at university with good friends who were Roman Catholic and sometimes attended church with them so that type of liturgy isn’t entirely unfamiliar to me.  But it’s fair to say that my level of comfort with a traditional Anglican liturgy is sketchy at best.

Some of the music was familiar, though the words were different from what I knew.  I loved how their church bulletin made it easy for a “newbie” like me to follow and know what I needed to do.

I had an internal debate about how much to participate in the service.  While faith is important to me, let’s be honest, what I believe in at this point is pretty different from what churches normally espouse.  The thing is, it’s not that I’m certain I don’t believe the more traditional things as well.  I’ve just stopped thinking about them.  I decided to let my heart and mind be open and that I would participate as fully as felt comfortable in the moment.

It was a powerful thing to pray as a whole body, to speak the words:

Almighty God
to you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hidden.

I’ve prayed things like that before, but they’ve never felt so true or so safe.  Those kinds of words used to scare me in ways I didn’t understand.  I didn’t know I was hiding, but I knew being known was terrifying. Today, those words felt healing. Today, those words felt freeing.

While at one level I missed the informality and intimacy of the worship services I used to know, there was something freeing in being in worship that didn’t bring up old baggage exactly because it was so different.

There is a beauty in the language of liturgy.  The care with which every word of the Prayers of the People were chosen. The warmth of the traditional passing of the peace, when it felt clear that the Rector made a point of greeting us even though we were sitting only a few pews from the back of the sanctuary. The kindness of the man sitting behind us when people started moving to receive the Eucharist who provided us with some additional instructions when he saw what I suspect were the human equivalent of “deer in the headlights” looks as we debated which way we should go. The simplicity of the kneeling to be receive the bread and the wine at the altar rail in the small chapel. The quiet words spoken as each element is given.  The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you. The beauty of the stained glass windows with the reminder of one of my favourite passages of scripture.

Come to me all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy, and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke and learn from me for I am gentle and humble hearted and your souls will find relief for my load is light.

Perhaps the most powerful moment was right before the blessing.  I don’t know what it’s called in the liturgy, but hearing these words spoken proudly, enthusiastically, by the people gathered for worship filled me with hope:

We are all people of God

In the heart of Victoria we celebrate Christ
In joyful worship!

We celebrate Christ
By including everyone!

We celebrate Christ
By putting faith into action!

A church that can say that the way they did has the potential to be a place I could call home even though so much is unfamiliar. It doesn’t mean I’ve found a home, it just means that I have a little more faith that one could exist.


If you want to know about Church Quest, I recommend reading the first post in the series. If you have any suggestions about where we should visit on the journey to find a church home that is welcoming and affirming for LGBTQ people, or have stories about your own journey to find a spiritual home, I’d love hear from you in the comments below.