As a person in her mid 50s I have made my way as a lesbian with the Disciples church largely alone. I came of age in a time and place in which there were virtually no resources for negotiating the reality of being a lesbian in a hetero-normative church. My allies were lesbian and feminist writers, some of whom had an active spirituality, many of whom did not. I read their books and essays and poetry as if it were gospel, because in a way it was the Good News I needed as I tried to invent a life of swimming against the tide, and as I struggled with the very difficult task of living into my call as a minister in a church that felt deeply ambivalent (and that is a generous descriptor) about me.
A generation later I take deep delight in witnessing my students travel the same path but with very different resources. My students can drink deeply of whole sections of the library devoted to theology and Bible which take seriously the lived experience of LGBTQI folk; they can take academic classes in The Church and Homosexuality, The Bible and Liberation, and Queer Theology and Theory. Openly gay people are their teachers, their colleagues, their mentors. Our gay student caucus (imagine!) is not simply a faithful knot of the quietly closeted – it is a vibrant collection of gay folks, straight allies, married couples, activists, ministers and scholars, all committed to bringing about justice and equality in our churches, the place where many of us first learned about justice.
Through the years I had become quite self-sufficient at dealing with the slings and arrows that routinely came my way. I grew a thick skin, I learned to speak truth to power without alienating others as colleagues, I sharpened my sense of humor, and I grew in faithfulness to Jesus. I strongly identified with the woman in the gospels who crashed Simon’s dinner party in order to draw near to Jesus, anointing his feet with her own tears. I learned to take my tears and prayers to Jesus without giving too much credence or deference to the Simons who kept the gate.
One day several years ago I was having breakfast with my new friend, Rebecca Hale. Rebecca is a shining star in our church, having served our church at many levels and in many different contexts. Rebecca had a certain amount of power (as recognized by the institution) and there was a day when I might have considered her to be part of Simon’s cohort. But on this day at breakfast, I was feeling particularly discouraged about the church and was possibly even considering leaving it. I can’t even remember the specifics of what had happened, other than a string of homophobic comments and attitudes from church leaders. I was weary of it all, and so over tea and pancakes I told Rebecca about each thing that had happened, and why I felt I might need to get out of the ecclesial water and rest on the bank for a time.
Rebecca said in response, “let me carry that for you for awhile.” She did not explain away or rationalize what had happened or try to defend church leaders who must respond to many different constituencies. She did not indignantly rant about the encounters I had. She did not even feel a need to convince me that she was different than the other church leaders I had encountered. She simply offered to carry it. I had laid out what was troubling me. She picked it up and put it on her back and took it from there.
The word accompaniment literally means “to come with bread”. I have a friend who is more than an ally in my struggle. She accompanies me, and often she brings bread. She picks up the load and carries it when it has me bent over. She goes the hard way with me. She may represent Simon, but she embodies Jesus. It has made all the difference.