by Rev. Lauren Kilbourn
A few weeks ago my best friend and partner of two years officially became my wife. This was a joyous occasion for us and for our families (mixed with the social and theological complexities that a same-sex union offers, of course). Tying the knot also meant packing up everything that I owned and moving in to a new place that we can call ours.
As I was unpacking the other day I came across a box of odds and ends taped up and labeled from my last move. Curious about what I had left packaged for three years, I opened it with the awe and wonder of a kid on Christmas morning. What I found left me nearly speechless. This box was like a time capsule of my life. I found art projects and wrapped trinkets from my childhood; old journals and letters from my years as a camp counselor; and three of my favorite Christmas ornaments. Just when I thought I had discovered every item, one was left to be revealed. From the very bottom corner of that deep box I pulled out an old cigar box that I had decorated when I was 15 years old and deemed my memory catcher. What it was in actuality was not so much a memory catcher as a Pandora’s Box. I rarely visit its contents, but when I do, I will spend hours taking out each article and rehashing old memories: the collar that belonged to my first cat; a beaded bracelet that I had stolen from my great-grandmother’s armoire the week after she died; a black and white photograph taken of my mother and me just moments after my birth…
This time as I began to open the box, my eyes went directly to a stack of small slips of paper, bound together with a rubber band. I hesitated briefly. I hadn’t visited that article of the memory catcher since my departure from the United Methodist Church in 2005. Each of these papers represented a vote—yes or no—from my church’s Charge Conference when I began the ordination process.
I remember the night of the vote well. It was one of the first times I had spoken publicly about feeling God’s call to ordained ministry in my life. I felt vulnerable and yet lovingly nested under the wings of a church that I trusted. My heart raced right before they reported their decision, but I was sure that if I was told “no,” then they would help guide me into a lay ministry where I could flourish. That evening after Charge Conference I took from my pocket the slips of paper that they had given me, and basked in the glow of a loving, affirming congregation. “Yes,” the first slip of paper read. “Yes,” read the second and the third and the fourth. “Yes, yes, yes, sí, yes, sí, sí, yes…” 54 people at the meeting, and 54 “yeses” in all.
In earlier years some of these papers were affixed to my bathroom mirror as a daily reminder of God’s call in my life and the church who backed me up. I often looked at them and felt encouraged, remembering the supportive applause of that Charge Conference and the various people who had validated me as I walked the journey to ordained life. When I came out of the closet and was therefore dismissed (unpleasantly so, might I add), it took everything in my power to stack them and bind them with a rubber band, rather than throw them into the fire. Over the course of a week the church that had grown me up, nurtured me, supported me through college and into seminary; the church that taught me about God’s love even when I couldn’t love myself; the church that, much like Gabriel to Mary, announced my call to me and told me how to live into it; that church not only removed me from its ordination process, but began to treat me like I was Judas Iscariot himself.
I examined the stack of paper, bound by that same rubber band, unopened for almost eight years. There were old and deep wounds located among those folds. I remember at one very low point in my life trying to re-visit those papers for comfort and instead rehashing resentment, anger, and sorrow for the institution that took away such great hope it had given me. Yet something inside of me that day told my heart that it was stronger and more resilient than before. I sat down on the floor, and slowly, almost ritualistically, unwound the band. I spread each “yes” out and looked at them with a smile. Though my heart still has a dull ache for the ways that many people treated me after coming out, I can look back now and remember the people who continued to tell me “yes:” The divinity school professor at whose desk I openly wept when a classmate told me I was the kind of person who was ruining the integrity of his church; the visitor from my conference who told me that it was the UMC’s loss when I had to leave; a district superintendent who reminded me that God’s work in my life never changed, even though the church was foolish in their decision-making; the field education supervisor who admired the courage it took to even broach the subject to begin with. The list goes on.
The truth of the matter is that this world is full of people who have actually read and understood and now live out the Gospel commands to love God and love others. Many of them are United Methodist. The truth of the matter is that God fearfully and wonderfully creates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender women and men, and loves them ferociously. Many of them are United Methodist. The truth of the matter is that God calls LGBT and straight people to a life of ordained service. Many of them are United Methodist. And what I have learned and remembered recently is that God also gives us straight (and sometimes closeted LGBT) allies—people who care about, love, and stand up for ALL of God’s children. Many of them are United Methodist.
Stand strong and keep the faith, brothers and sisters.
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