When I woke up on the morning of Pentecost Sunday, I knew it was going to be an intense day for me and the closer I got to the church, the more nervous I was becoming. I must have played dozens of scenarios out in my head to mentally prepare myself for any and all possibilities of reactions. However, the one scene that I never even considered being a possibility is exactly what happened.
If you were not able to attend worship on Pentecost this year it is probably unclear as to what I am talking about. On that Sunday morning, at the end of worship, Pastor Scott, Council President Bruce Nelson, and I sat in front of the altar together to host a family meeting. The purpose of this meeting was two-fold: 1) to allow me the space to make a personal announcement, and 2) to spark a conversation on what it means to be an ELCA Lutheran at Shepherd.
As you may know, part of the journey to ordination requires a year-long pastoral internship which normally occurs during the third year in Seminary. For me, that meant leaving Shepherd this summer and beginning my internship this fall. However, as circumstances unfolded, I discovered that this scenario was not going to be possible for me. I am a gay man and, because of my sexuality, I could not find a congregation at that time who was willing to accept an LGBTQ intern into their community. Naturally I was deeply saddened by this series of events of non-acceptance for who God created me to be. However, what disturbed me most was the observed complacency among the clergy and faith communities. The usual response from the clergy was that they were uncomfortable to have a conversation about their congregation’s level of acceptance out of fear of the conversation being too divisive. It was this complacency that has hurt me and continues to hurt so many people in our communities, country, and world.
So, after deliberation with the staff and council at SOTH, I decided it was time to not only come out to you, but to also share my experience this Spring during my internship placement process to begin working towards breaking down the environment and philosophies which allow this complacency to occur.
The response I received was and continues to be overwhelming to me. The standing ovation and words of deep love, support, and encouragement have filled me with hope and joy. While the words ‘thank you’ will never seem like enough, that is all I can really say – from the bottom of my heart and from the depths of my soul, thank you!
Yet, what was most exceptional to me was the obvious presence of the Holy Spirit among each one of us. Pentecost is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and to us. It is by God the Holy Spirit that we receive our gifts and call and if you were in the Sanctuary this Pentecost I hope you felt your heart ablaze as I did mine. I felt the passion from many of you to spring into action and help break down the walls which have been built by our fellow sisters and brothers to keep out the other. I felt the fire of the community burning fiercely among us – a fire which could only have been lit by the Holy Spirit.
I must admit that even as I write this, I am holding back tears. I am so filled by what God is doing in this place and through each of you that I am deeply moved and I want to uplift this. We know that Shepherd is a special place for us and our families. However, God is doing something incredible in this place. I hope that you can see this and feel God’s presence. While I am overjoyed at the support I have received at Shepherd, I hope that this experience has shown all of us what kind of family we belong to. We belong to a family that wholly and authentically cares for each other. We are a family that says that we are so deeply loved by God and bask in God’s grace that we have no other choice than to love others in return. We are a family that not only welcomes the other, but celebrates our God-given diversity while eating together, praying together, singing together, and serving together. We are a family that not only says, “You are welcome here,” but means it and weaves it into every single fiber of our life together. This is a special and holy community that is the Body of Christ fueled by the fire of the Holy Spirit that shows God’s magnificent and all-consuming love to everyone.
It has been one of my greatest honors and treasured moments to share in this moment with you. I daily give thanks to God for you and this family of faith and pray that together we may be a voice of change in our world to show what God’s love truly looks like and feels like.
God bless you now and always.