-by Mary Ann Kaiser-
As a teenager I left the UMC for a hip nondenominational church where I learned, because of my gender, I was not qualified to be a minister. My youth director was kind enough to point me in the direction of 1 Corinthians 14, and there it was—women should remain silent in church. So I decided I’d marry a pastor (male, obviously) so I could sneak my way into leadership.
The next chapter led me back to the UMC where a more open-minded theology and biblical interpretation invited me to reconsider what I had come to believe about my call. It took me about two years of struggling with all I had been taught about a women’s role in the church to move past it, but thanks to a supportive home church, I managed to find my way to accepting the call I felt God placed on my life.
The UMC was a means of liberation from the sexist views I had come to accept. I then move on to my year in Nigeria and following, seminary. Seminary was a continuation of the liberation I needed. I was introduced to Feminist, Liberation, and Queer Theology. The new theological frameworks helped me grow further into my identity as a capable woman, but also as a lesbian. It was theology that helped me come out and understand myself as beloved in all aspects of my identity. In telling my story, it ends on a happy note: liberation, coming out, freedom! And then I wrap it up with a nice bow about being in my current church position as a youth director and justice associate.
There have been some serious bumps and bruises along the last few years, of course, but the way I share my story is authentic in my gratitude for what the UMC and theology have offered me. However, it didn’t hit me until I found myself in worship this Sunday reflecting on my story that I have come full circle—The UMC that freed me from sexism to pursue my call to ministry, is the very same denomination that now proclaims, I am again, unfit for ministry. Like my youth minister of old, the UMC points me to a select number of scripture verses and says, “see…it’s clear and simple.” Fortunately, I have since learned a thing or two about how to handle such proclamations.
Nonetheless, it was for me, a sad realization. I like sharing my story with the UMC being a hero of sorts in my life. It makes me proud to be a part of it. But now the UMC is one of the few mainline protestant denominations that continue to deny LGBT women and men the call God has placed on our lives. Where our denomination was once a forerunner of social change, we are now the caboose.
Fortunately, my story is not yet finished, and neither is the story of the UMC. I hope that where the UMC once freed me from living into a false understanding of God’s call on my life, I can now help, hand-in-hand with many others, to free the UMC of its current false understanding of God’s call on its own life. I eagerly await to turn, together, to a new page.
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Mary Ann Kaiser received her B.A. in Organizational Communication with a minor in Social Welfare from the University of West Florida. After college she spent one year living in Nigeria where she was shaped greatly by the cross-cultural experience and relationships formed. She has worked for a Wesley Foundation, as a hospital chaplain and completed an internship at WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) in Silver Spring, MD. She attended Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary where she earned her M.Div. and developed a passion for exploring the intersections of church and soceity. She is an out lesbian who now works at a UMC church in Texas as Youth Director and Justice Associate. She is challenged daily to grow in openness, resolution, and kindness.