Today I thought of you and I cried. They were not the same kind of tears that I cried three years ago when, just a few months after my coming out, I realized that you would not journey with me into my future as a queer pastor. Those tears, when I transferred my membership and ordination process away from you and to a more welcoming congregation, were tears of deep loss, grief, and heartbreak. These today were more like the tears I shed nearly 20 years ago beside a campfire on a church retreat as I felt a sense of unquestionable belonging.Today they were tears of boundless joy and hope. Because today, this church denomination that you taught me to so love and to whom I have pledged my life and calling finally became an institution that will honor and recognize my love, no matter what it looks like.
One day, I will fall in love and covenant to share a life with someone else, and, whatever their gender, I will do it in my church. My church. And as I sat in a sanctuary today filled with Christians dreaming about the future church, this amazing, newly-true reality of my life brought tears to my eyes. And then I thought of you. And I wished that I could know that you would share in my joy. I wished that realizing my marriage would be recognized and blessed by my church didn’t come with the painful caveat that it may never be in the church that raised me. The church that loved me first.
I have thought of you many times in the 3 years since we parted ways. On my path to ordination I have said again and again that I feel called to ministry because my childhood church was my home and I believe everybody should get to feel that way about church. And it’s the truth. You were the first place that I ever felt fully loved and claimed and held. In all my awkwardness and weirdness (and as yet unrealized queerness), you wrapped me in embrace and acceptance. You taught me to believe in a God who loves us without condition or boundary. You planted that truth deep, deep in my soul, not through the words you said or the theology you espoused, but through the love you embodied. You are the reason I believe so strongly in a church where all are embraced and celebrated in the fullness of their being.
In recent months, I have watched from afar the upheaval that our moves toward LGBTQ equality have brought to your community. I have kept tabs. I have taken comfort in those among you who have offered me support and acceptance. I have hurt for those of you who have stayed in the midst of pain and struggle and a loss I know all too well. I have made a litany of the names of those who have left because my kind of love makes them not love the church enough to be a part of it with me. I have prayed for you. Hard. I have missed you.
And I have thought of the child I once was–the child you first welcomed home. That child would never have imagined there was a limit to your love or some truth within her that would make you turn away. For that I am so deeply grateful. It allowed me to root my faith in a God that loves all of her children without limits, queer and straight alike, and to believe in and work for a church that reflects that love. You taught me that such love was gospel truth, and I will spend the rest of my life preaching that gospel, and living into the hope that it preaches to you too.