In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as in many other denominations I am sure, church camp is a formative experience for many young people. Church camp was a formative experience for me. I loved spending my summers at Tall Oaks camp in the Kansas City region. At camp I heard the beginnings of what I now know as my call to ministry and I made life-long friendships.
One of those dear, life-long friends is Adam. Adam served on the youth leadership “Cabinet” together with me when we were in high school. Adam and I shared a love of camp, the church, and lots of other things. Adam was the first man outside my family to tell me he loved me. He told me during one of those late night phone conversations during our freshman year at two different Disciple’s colleges. Our friendship was and is deep and true. The summer after my junior year in college, I attended General Assembly in Denver, Colorado. General Assembly is like a big family reunion and when I saw Adam passing in the hallway I ran to hug him. Right there in the hallway at General Assembly, Adam told me he was gay. That revelation was a celebration for him and for me. We hugged and rejoiced together and I left our encounter feeling like Adam was finally able to be all that God had created him to be.
I have a nagging suspicion that Adam heard the same beginnings of a call to ministry that I did when we were at church camp together. Adam chose not to pursue that call- I don’t know all the reasons but I know that part of the reason he didn’t is because he doesn’t feel entirely welcome in the church. Adam doesn’t attend church anymore- I don’t think he feels like he belongs- and in part, he is right there are many churches that wouldn’t welcome Adam and Robert, his partner of 15 years. Adam didn’t come to my ordination- I think I know why.
But Adam and I talk theology on Facebook chat. He loves God, although he sometimes feels distant in his relationship with the Divine. I confess to him that I sometimes I do too; and I’m a minister. I love Adam so deeply that it is hard for me to imagine him being unwelcome anywhere. He is God’s child and he belongs in worship just as much as I do. But it isn’t easy- it isn’t easy to attend worship and worry about if the person next to you thinks you are going to hell for simply being who you are.
My prayer for Adam is that he find a home in a church again someday. I pray to God he will find a home in a Disciples’ church. It may be a church that is “Open & Affirming,” or it may be a church that doesn’t roll out that sign. I love that fact that I belong to a denomination where the person sitting in the pew with me doesn’t have to have the same views as I do- but we can come together on the essentials. To me the essentials are what Jesus taught about loving God and loving neighbor. We are called to love neighbor and extend hospitality gay or straight.
God loves each of us deeply- the ones who sit in the pews every Sunday and the ones who have been alienated from worship. God loves those who have been called to ministry and responded, as well as those who have been called and run from that call. God also loves the ones who have been called but have found it difficult to serve because of human standards and structures. God loves me, and God loves Adam, and for that I am most grateful.
When I sent this essay to Adam, this was his response:
“Sunny, the fact that you thought of me when asked to write something means more than you could ever imagine. With that said, if you accept, you will be the one to perform our ceremony when it becomes legal in a state we live in. To be honest, Susan Heim-Davis will be required to participate in some manner but since your ordination you have been first on our list.
While Rob and I were not physically there for your ordination, it was important for me to show our support at your celebration dinner. I often regret not being there for the ceremony as I can’t imagine an event or a congregation in KC that would have been more accepting. If I am honest with myself, missing the ceremony was more likely because you were able to accept your calling with an open mind and open arms while I feared what it might actually mean for me.
As you suspected, I had the calling, as did a number of our fellow board members, but I can’t say that my sexual orientation was the only reason I chose to turn away from it. I chose my path for many reasons.
I was so tied up in the struggle of who I was that my college experience was plagued with denial and self-destructive activities. It was only after I came back to KC and found a job that happened to have other gay and lesbian people that I began to understand that God created me as I was. My home church was accepting of my love of Christ and the message God had empowered me to share but I can count on one hand the number of times Rob and I were seen there together. I simply allowed these and more materialistic things to make my decision for me.
My church is in my heart, my mind, and my book but these days I am so much better with that. We have tried attending other churches, Disciples, MCC, Unity, and UCC, but they will never live up to those services in the outdoor chapel or up at inspiration point. I still struggle on religious holidays, through lent and advent, but I also know that much of what religion is isn’t in those ceremonies but deep in our hearts.
I am sure that someday Rob and I will find a community celebrates what we can grow with, but I am content in the gifts that have been given to us. We have families and friends that celebrate our whole beings and for that we are truly thankful and humbled by the all-encompassing love that God has given us.
Sunny, your love means so much to me, Rob, and countless others. You are the light that we all strive to become.”
Whenever I take my youth to church camp I wish for them that they would make life-long friendships like Adam and I have made. May God continue to bless our churches, our camps and our friendships. Amen.