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I’ve been reading a lot of blogs the past few days, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have been a major topic of discussion. This is because the ELCA has been holding their Church-Wide Assembly this week, and the church’s response to GLBT people in various circumstances has been a huge topic of conversation. They’ve voted on a statement on Human Sexuality (of which GLBT issues is only a small portion), a policy of allowing local congregations to minister to GLBT people in accordance with their own conscience, and a policy allowing the ordination of GLBT clergy in monogamous, lifelong patnerships.
It’s this last policy that I’d like to talk about briefly. Although I am no longer a Christian and don’t foresee returning to that faith (and if I did, I’d be more inclined to join the Orthodox church anyway), it’s something that in some ways is near and dear to me. As someone who loves to help and serve others, it pleases me to see new opportunities being provided to GLBT to help and serve others. And as someone who once felt called to ministry, I admit some pleasure in knowing that such an opportunity has come in my lifetime, even if I no longer plan to take it.
As I’ve read various people express both their joys and their concerns about this decision in the ELCA, I began to consider my own time of serving in my old (American Baptist) church back home. While I was not an ordained minister, I spent time as a Sunday school teacher, the leader of the youth group, and even the superintendent of the children’s Sunday school program. (I also did speak from the pulpit as a lay leader a handful of times.)
I came out to myself as a gay man towards the end of my senior year in college. When I graduated and returned home, I also returned to my small rural church an quickly found myself pulled back into leadership. I almost immediate took over the Sunday school class for grades 7-12 as well as the youth group. That summer, I also co-led our church’s Vacation Bible School program. A few months after that, my aunt stepped down as superintendent of the children’s Sunday school program and I was asked to take over.
At the time, no one in my church (with the possible exception of a couple of family members) knew that I was gay. To be honest, I’m not sure how the other members of the church would’ve reacted if they knew, and I was too afraid at the time to find out. So I kept my sexuality a secret and focused on doing my duties as a leader in the church. And I suffered in silence.
Yes, I suffered. Those first few months to a couple of years after you come out to yourself can be quite difficult emotionally. You find yourself sorting through a lot of feelings and trying to understand what it means to be gay and all the implications it has for your life. So here I was trying to act as a leader in my church and deal with my own problems, and I was afraid to turn to any of the other church leaders to seek help during this time of my life.
At one point, I began having trouble upholding my responsibilities as a church leader began to sag due to the issues I was trying to work through. (And things got even worse the few months before I finally left the church — as I had also begun to add in the complications that come with one’s first real relationship.) I started to procrastinate and forgot to do certain things. A few of the other leaders began to get upset, especially as they relied on me for certain things and I let them down on more than one occasion. And I was frustrated because they never once asked what was going on with me or why I was becoming less dependable. But to make matters worse, even if they had asked me what was wrong, I doubt I would’ve had the courage to tell them. I just wasn’t comfortable.
As I think of my experiences, I think of the ELCA’s decison with some pleasure, knowing that at least some GLBT people who wish to serve in a Christian community will now be able to do so openly. And this means that they will be able to get the support I felt was denied to me back when I was serving as I felt called. And that is something that pleases me greatly.