Written with all the grace I have left to give
Five years. I spent five years at University Covenant Church involved on both staff and volunteer levels building relationships, investing in youth, and being a Guinea pig for the staff to figure out how to approach the LGBT community. I extended all kinds of grace in the face of being offended and hurt, all in the name of building bridges and starting conversations. In reflection, I wonder if it was all a waste of time.
So many congregants that I’ve come to love over the last few years have often asked about the process for me at UCC; being both gay and at a high level of leadership. Every time I was faced with hard questions about the staff and the elders I always answered vaguely and put them in a very positive light. “We’re learning how to love amidst disagreements” or “they’re being very fair it’s just difficult”. But here’s the deal, it’s not hard to love, the way UCC “deals with” queer people isn’t fair, and I’m done being vague.
In my last year serving at UCC I was on the support staff for their college ministry. You would think I was a shoe in. But It took a grueling four month process to come to the conclusion that I was, indeed, fit to be on staff. I sat in meeting rooms telling my story over and over again, tears every time hoping to ensue some sort of empathy. Maybe I did.
After months of conversing and “praying” the staff and elder team came to an agreement. I would pursue a life of celibacy, and I would agree not to date. They also had me agree to check in and give results on how their “gay leader” experiment was going. Then they said they still weren’t sure if they trusted me. After sticking around for so many years, after serving with all my heart, after being completely vulnerable. They said to build trust I needed to take down my blogs. To make it real official, I signed a contract. All of this to volunteer 25 unpaid hours every week, to serve and use my gifts.
I did it though. Why? Because UCC is where I learned to thrive in the ways God has gifted me. It’s where I developed my skills as a preacher and teacher, I grew, built relationships, and I still deeply care about the congregation. I did it because I really wanted to walk alongside the college students. I did it for that queer student who was trying to reconcile faith and sexuality, and didn’t think it was possible. For the lesbian girl who cried in my arms, and the gay student who needed to know he was loved. I agreed to the terms because I really believed it was a step in the right direction.
The elder team wasn’t saying this was the permanent end all be all. They actually told me that they needed time to have more conversation and do more research and this agreement is what they felt comfortable with at the time. I stayed because I wanted to make sure while these conversations were had that LGBT congregants had a voice. I was so naïve.
Recently I was asked by some college students to come back and guest preach. When your pastor found out, he immediately called a meeting with the current support staff. He informed the students that I was only allowed to preach last year because I agreed to be celibate, and he is aware that I am dating someone this year so that’s a game changer. Lets be clear, celibacy and dating are completely different things. I guess maybe he just believes that two men cant date and keep it in their pants? Or maybe he’s actually not concerned about celibacy at all, given that most volunteers at UCC aren’t celibate, including some of your beloved youth leaders. Internalized homophobia is rampant within the leader team. In actuality, they don’t want to have a man at the pulpit who might be seen on a date with another man in downtown Davis; that’s the big concern. This realization made me realize that in my many years having conversations and sitting with pastors, I didn’t really build bridges at all.
In my attempt to build bridges I feel like I contributed to a facade for the congregation. A facade I’m not proud to have been the foundation of. You see your elders tagged in photos with the hashtag “progressive church”, and your pastor cry about LGBT hurt that has occurred, and on top of all that you see me, an out gay man still serving. I helped them build this image that set the congregation at ease. When in actuality a lot is happening and being decided about UCC and how it interacts with queer people, and the congregation is being kept in the dark. Here we are years later, and the elders and leaders at UCC still haven’t publicly addressed the LGBT topic. Instead they meet and talk and nothing happens. They meet privately with their queer congregants to make them feel heard, but it’s really just keeping them in the shadows and keeping them quiet. What would make us feel heard is if there were steps taken, and if it was finally talked about; not in an office with the door closed and tears flowing, but publicly.
The covenant denomination does hold a traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, and believes in celibacy outside of marriage. To be clear, I believe in pursuing celibacy outside of marriage as well. However, the denomination allows freedom within congregations to be affirming of queer people, yes both married and dating, to serve at different levels of leadership and be completely involved in church functions.
Artisan church, in New York, is an open and affirming covenant church (http://www.artisanchurch.com) along with resurrection covenant church in Chicago (http://rescov.org). Often times in conversations I heard the staff say that it wasn’t allowed by our denomination to be affirming, well that’s a lie. And they were worried about my integrity?
So many of you at UCC have treated me with love. I’ve had the pleasure of leading some of your kids to Christ, and walking through some of the toughest patches of life with many of you. I’ve come to know the congregation well, and I know majority of you believe that there should be space for LGBT folks in your community, and that we are also deserving of love. Your elders and leaders are making decisions without your voice. Justice is not silent, please speak up for those of us that are unable to be fully involved at UCC. I’ve honestly struggled to find another church to call home, but UCC is a place where I can’t grow and serve.
So what am I asking you to do? Send an email, request a meeting, send a letter. Let love turn into action.
Peace and blessings,