For some liturgical flair, I am bringing some stoles that have been given to me as gifts. But, to robe or not to robe? Then I had a great idea… my Affirmation shirt would be a good robe! Affirmation is the foundation of the vision and ministry for inclusion of LGBTQI people in the life of the UMC … well, such as it is!
The first time I attended a United Methodist “Listening Post on Homosexuality” was in 1984. Yes, I know, listening posts are nothing new.
I had never heard of General Conference, but something was in the works that caused there to be a District level meeting at my home church in Edinboro, PA. It was February, I was a high school math teacher and basketball coach, closeted. However, Julie and I had met at that church and our pastor was affirming of us. We sat with him in the pew.
The church was packed, a couple hundred people. And the speakers were confidently speaking about the abomination of homosexuality. Every argument was made – even ones that anti-gay people no longer mention. It was horrible. Our pastor, Ron, would jot a note to us to critique their venom as the morning wore on and on.
Then one lone soul stood up to talk. One young man who told us he was gay himself and shared about his life and faith. He was there as local member of something called “Affirmation”. While I can no longer see his face, I can still feel his presence and the goodness that cut through the abuse of that day. I marveled at the Spirit in our midst. I knew he was being authentic and he exhibited the trust in God with his whole being.
Little did I know that in the next few months the band of Affirmation folks would be present at the 1984 General Conference. There they would resist the ban being implemented against the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates. The prohibition against the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” being ordained was made into law. Affirmation was ready with a positive response – they were present the next day passing out flyers and giving birth to the “Reconciling Congregation Program.” I would not hear of this until I came to seminary at Garrett in 1990.
Affirmation led the way with authentic voice for queer people in those grim years … changing its byline as new awareness and sensitivity gave insight.
I am grateful for that one person who spoke to a hostile crowd so that I could hear. I am grateful for the group they formed, the vision and the Holy Spirit they shared that gave birth to RCP, now RMN. Last summer at the RMN convocation in San Antonio we heard some of this amazing history.
Grace. Gospel. Calling. Community. I believe…
God is calling a lot of LGBTQ people.
I am frequently asked why I am still United Methodist. I give many answers. But surely, I could not have had the ministry I have enjoyed if I had not the shoulders to stand on … thank you to all the saints.