My last post was an exception to the plan that I had for my blogs and had no autobiographical portion. It was my passionate response to the horror of Uvalde. None of that is gone from my mind or heart. We each need to act, to do.
alt=”a long line of protesting United Methodists, lay and clergy, lined up on a stage, all holding hands.”
This post on the other hand will be almost completely autobiographical. To re-iterate: The autobiographical writing portions that are part of each of my blog posts are meant to keep the blog going as I learn and grow and write, and learn to just talk to you who are reading me. Along with that life story I will write as I grow in my understanding of my journey and how it relates to all our journeys and to what it means to be living in this world.
At the end of this blog post, “Flying Briefcases?” tells how I, who was deeply steeped in Advaita Vedanta, who had, and still has, no doubt whatsoever about the truth in Advaita Vedanta, who had most of my adult life not attended church, who did not even know if I wanted to call myself a Christian, came to go to seminary.
But first, in my second blog post I described my life-changing experience at the 2000 GC in Cleveland. Picking up with where I left off in that second blog post, this piece below is a closer look at that experience. I wrote it for the Wallingford UMC newsletter after I returned from Cleveland.
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IMAGES OF CLEVELAND
Cleveland, Ohio, May 1-13, 2000. Hot & muggy, storm clouds threatening, seldom delivering. A strange downtown, lots of large buildings, but hardly any people except when the Cleveland Indian fans descended in masse on weekends. Lots of walking, within the half mile circle of our hotels, the two AMAR* Coalition headquarters, the Convention Center and the plaza next to it where supportive Bishops served us daily communion. Low cost meals from MFSA at the Old Stone Church or sandwiches at the Galleria food court, mingling with the delegates.
From the beginning, it was obvious the Good News faction had strong enough support from the middle to control the conference. They captured the committee chairs and had a clear majority on the key Faith & Order committee. The question was, could we move the middle If only enough to replace the “incompatibility with Christian teaching” language with words that we are not all of one mind.
I volunteered to be one of the “storytellers.” “Moveable” delegates were identified, and we were to make connection with them and put a face on the issue. Connecting was very hard; telling my story was the easy part. I spent time with one delegate who lives 15 miles from the farm where I grew up. He was very friendly, but I don’t think he moved (yet).
Then I got asked to be a legislative tracker in the Local Church committee, tracking legislation and lobbying for a minority report to allow churches to allow covenant ceremonies by a 2/3 vote. The joy of meeting Shirley Parris, a wonderful strong, supportive, African-American delegate from New York.
After the conference ended each day, de-briefing and strategy planning meetings with MFSA and AMAR at the Sheraton, going on past midnight (the two nights before the 11th, we got three hours sleep), surrounded by the Shower of Stoles exhibit (including the WUMC Middle School Youth Stole) and the Silent Witness exhibit, with stories of sexual minority persons who have been murdered just for being who they were.
The Soulforce rally/ training the night before their civil disobedience. Fred Phelps and his grandchildren shouting obscenities at us (a clear case of child abuse). Hundreds of Soulforce volunteers from all over the country dressed in white. Inspiring words by Mel White, Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Don Fado, Arun Gandhi, Yolanda King, James Lawson, Jr., Robert and Jenny Graetz, and Rodney Powell.
The next morning Mel White led the Soulforce action, symbolically blocking an exit ramp, keeping an agreement with AMAR to go for national media attention without actually disrupting the conference before the major votes. Greg had warned AMAR volunteers not to be arrested on Wednesday if we were planning to be in an AMAR action on Thursday, after the vote, because two arrests could trigger a jail sentence. Most of us took his advice, but he didn’t. Greg, Jimmy Creech, Bishop Sprague, Arun Gandhi and the other civil rights leaders, and most of the AMAR leadership were among the 191 arrested.
Wednesday night’s strategy meeting was tense. Decisions were made by consensus. We were certain we would lose the key vote on “incompatibility” on Thursday, morning, and we decided to ask the conference for a four-year moratorium on the implementation of all anti-inclusive policies, new or old. We talked about who would be arrested. Unlike the day before, we had no agreement with the prosecutor’s office. A 30-day jail sentence was possible, and I was very afraid of that. Larry Fox was one of the first to volunteer.
Thursday, May 11th, is a day I will never forget. And I will always be thankful for having been able to be there. When the attempt to moderate the “incompatibility” language was voted down, we marched onto the floor. I was scared. I wish I could remember every detail, looking out over that sea of 1000 delegates, mostly the conservative delegates in the front, seated, stone-faced. Way back, pro-reconciling delegates (about 300) standing in support. But scattered throughout, other courageous delegates standing, sometimes in the midst of the opponents. One delegate, a young man, probably not more than 18, standing alone. Many AMAR volunteers standing in the balconies with Stoles on. The singing of freedom spirituals, We Shall Overcome and others, led by retired Bishop Leontine Kelly. Fifteen or more Bishops standing in support of us.
We lost the vote on a moratorium. We took a consensus, and decided to force an arrest as our witness that what had taken place was a very wrong, injurious to LIGHT people, and a broken covenant. Presiding Bishop Solomon of Louisiana putting his head down in his hands and saying, “I cannot witness what is about to happen.”
And then the most emotional moment when we were led out by the police, joined in being arrested by Bishops Sprague and Morrison, going out past the other Bishops with several of them reaching for us and people in tears. Cries behind us in the hall of “Shame!” I was almost crying. And later, I learned of a hall full of tears from our supporters, and a collection of over $8,000 in checks for bail.
alt=”a group of Cleveland police officers escorting people into the back of a van. The last two being escorted in are two Bishops. The first one, Bishop Susan Morrison and the second one, Bishop Joseph Sprague.”
Right: The arrest. We all went in police vans; this is Bishops Susan Morrison
and Joseph Sprague. Photo: Mike DuBose, UM News.
In jail with wonderful pastor/activists from civil rights days, Bishop Sprague in the next cell, Greg Dell, Gil Caldwell, and Joe Agne (all arrested for the second time at the conference). And all telling bad jokes. The police were good. Noise and light and cockroaches on the wall and wondering if I would sleep. Then being bailed out and received by a cheering crowd outside the jail, including a very cute pastor. At 11:30 PM, going dancing at a gay bar with Greg and Jade Dell and several others, even though we had to get up at 6 or 7 AM to go to our arraignment. On Friday, the supportive judge and the relief at just a fine. My sadness at missing the short worship service that the Western Jurisdiction delegates held when the conference ended after Midnight.
[This last paragraph was written specifically for my fellow church members] I know that many of you are discouraged, grieving and angry about the votes by the GC delegates. I am still up-lifted by the life-changing experience of being in the witness and arrest. The delegates who cast the sad and shameful votes on May 11th are not the United Methodist Church. The hard core opponents of an inclusive church have, for the time being, captured the middle and thus the power of the denomination. But they are only one stream, and alone not even the majority. The Reconciling Congregation movement is very much alive and well and growing stronger every day. Let’s not forget that, as we experience our many feelings and, as Greg advises, not yet, but after a short while of being with our feelings about what has happened, begin to plan our response to the decision.
*Our coalition, called *AMAR, was a coalition of Affirmation, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the Reconciling Congregation Program, People of Color for an All-inclusive Church, and In All Things Charity.
*Soulforce was and still is a national gay rights advocacy group. It was founded by Pastor Mel White. During this period of time, Soulforce was leading many large demonstrations at national denominational conferences around the country in support of full LGBT inclusion in our faith communities.
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What happened that day was so important to me personally because it changed my life. The struggle for an inclusive UMC still had a long way to go, and we are not quite there yet. In 2024, my understanding is that the split in the denomination is finally going to happen. It will be a loss because the UMC as it has been such a strong force for good and the b international inclusivity will be diminished. But I think that there was no other way to move forward. To my surprise, it is the conservative factions that are leaving with a different name, and the inclusive church will be the UMC denomination.
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Back in Seattle after returning from Cleveland, I was changed. Talking to the two young people at a shoe store on Broadway about open and affirming churches. I had become an evangelist!
And I realized that I wanted all young LGBTQ persons to know........ I had begun to have a sense of “calling.” But my calling was really about inclusion and faith communities; I was a UMC, but I did not really know at that time if I could or wanted to call myself a Christian.
In July I attended a weekend event at St Mark’s Cathedral sponsored by Seattle’s Metropolitan Community Church and a coalition of LGBTQ affirming groups. Pastor Mel White of Soulforce was the featured speaker.
In connection with the event at St Mark’s, our Reconciling Congregation Committee brought Pastor Jimmy Creech to speak at Wallingford. Jimmy Creech had become famous because he was stripped of his credentials by the UMC for performing a same gender commitment ceremony. It was an extraordinary event at Wallingford. Church members even strung up speakers in the basement for an overflow crowd.
Because of my role at WUMC, I was on the email server for those who had been planning the event at Saint Mark’s. And shortly after the event, another person on the server sent out an email to everyone else on the server list asserting that open and affirming congregations were not as good as MCC because people could not really be themselves in the open and affirming congregations. I was offended and shot back an email that everyone on the email server was not MCC, and that what was asserted was not my experience. But I have the highest regard for the MCC. So the pastor of the Seattle MCC, who I guess was chairing this server group, and I had a few friendly exchanges about that, and then we just started talking. She said that she was getting her ministerial degree at Seattle’s branch of Antioch University. And just like that, it was if I had been struck by lightning. I realized that I wanted to go to a school of religion, and that there was nothing to stop me from doing so!!!
alt="a view of a tower on the Seattle university campus, framed by two tall evergreen trees, and in the foreground is a low gray stone wall with Seattle University on it in large letters"
That same day, I looked at the website for Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry (SUSTM). I chose Seattle U’s seminary because it was July, I was working in a position at ADS that no one else knew how to do, and I was sharing the house where I lived with my friend Ed. So going anywhere outside of Seattle by the beginning of the fall school year in September would have been moving way too fast. I downloaded the application!
I called my therapist and asked her if this was some sort of grandiose ego trip :).
The deadline for applying was July 20th! I downloaded SU STM’s application for admission for the fall quarter and submitted it, applying to enter seminary! My application story began:
“I grew up on a farm in southern Ohio with my mother and father and four brothers. We farmed with horses and had an outhouse and no running water in the house. All summer we went barefoot and took our baths in the pond. I loved going out on the cow paths to bring the cows in for milking. In the winter we bathed with a bucket of warm water near the living room stove. In the early winter evenings, I would shuck corn in the barnyard and fantasize on getting rich and famous, or being a saint or something. We always had a collie who slept in the hallway outside the kitchen, where we left our muddy boots.....”
I went on to tell of falling in love with Bry, hard years of drugs and sometimes homelessness and a lot of craziness. And leaving Bry, only because I had to, still loving him, still being gay, of course, and in 1995, finding WUMC and how my calling developed.
A couple of weeks later, I was at the Seattle University campus being interviewed by a religious brother at Seattle U’s (ecumenical) School of Theology and Ministry. At the end of the interview, he said, “Your application will be approved.” I went outside and threw my beautiful cloth briefcase up in the air (of, course, I did not catch it (SMILE). I had no idea what lay ahead. I only knew that I was very very happy.
alt= A somewhat fuzzy version of the clear photo that is at the beginning of this post, of a tower on the Seattle University campus, framed by tall evergreen trees. But unlike the first photo, there is a briefcase flying through the air to the left of the tower.”