When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, being gay meant being happy. The only “homos” I was aware of were the very flamboyant, flaming variety. Then during college the sorority next to mine was filled with the athletic “tom girl” types that were often the butt of our jokes. Many years later while in a church in Amherst, NY, a good church friend and mother of my nursery school student, divorced her husband and soon after “came out” as being a lesbian. This was my watershed moment. Could I suddenly de-friend her? Did she act any different? Was her relationship with another woman going to change my life in any way? Was her son behaving any differently? My answer to these questions was a resounding “no!”
Soon after this, because this woman had grown up in this church, and her parents were very active in the church, our congregation took the very difficult (for some) and bold stand to vote to become “Open & Affirming ”. I should add that this was in the late 1980’s and our denomination was United Church of Christ with equal affiliation with Disciples (as was the structure in Western New York). The congregation overwhelmingly voted to become O&A and life continued on. We socialized with my friend and her partner and became very comfortable with their relationship.
Then we moved to Lynchburg, Virginia in the early 1990’s and found First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) just beginning the discussion of accepting gays into the life of the church. So we again took this journey reassuring folks that life would go on and the church wouldn’t collapse. In late summer of 1999, I had been on staff for 3 years, and was approached by Rev. Mel White with the novel idea of having one on one dialogues between 200 of his gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Soulforce friends and 200 of Jerry Falwell’s congregants from Thomas Road Baptist Church. People came from all over the country, gay, straight, parents of gays, etc. FCC provided hospitality, food, housing, and sanctuary for the weekend. We were overwhelmed with the appreciation shown to us by people who had been banned and ostracized from their churches, families, and communities-people who lived in constant fear of being harmed and shunned and parents who feared for their children’s lives.
This weekend will remain a mountain-top experience for me for the rest of my life and I am so fortunate to have been able to be a part of this historic event. And I am so thankful for my friend who opened my eyes to the truth of homosexuality. I am thankful that FCC has taken the journey and is also an open and welcoming church in a community that contains a plethora of “Christian” churches who continue to cast judgment on others.