i’m gonna take a little break in the berlin posts now that i’m halfway through them. i have something even more important than travel to write about today.
you may or may not know that i work in a church as a minister. well, i do. and i have worked in churches (in the states & in sweden) for about 9 years of the past 16 years of my professional life. i have a master’s degree in divinity (theology), and have been part of the process to become an ordained minister in the united methodist church (umc) in the past. i am not ordained now, nor can i be… because of who i love. and i have no idea if i ever will be. in the umc or any other church for that matter. i am no longer a candidate for ordained ministry, and yet i still work in the church as a minister (thank you, centrumkyrkan [central church] in sweden!).
the other thing you may or may not know about me is that i am married to a woman. a swedish woman. who is amazing, and the love of my life. another fun fact is that before i met my wife, i was married to a man for almost 10 years. now, you need to know, in case you don’t, that i harbored no secret feelings about being with a woman. i never even thought about it. i just met lina and we fell in love. a huge shock for us both. but, something that made us both complete in some way. not that we weren’t complete people on our own… well, i just knew i had found my home.
ok. now you know two background things about me that lead me to what i am going to share with y’all today.
last week, the other minister i work with and i discussed what we were going to do for a meeting of fellow ministers that we were going to host in our church. and we decided to deal with the question of openness = what does it mean when we say that we are a church that is open for everyone? are we actually open for everyone? and are we open in every way?
we decided that my colleague would introduce and present the topic for the day, and then i would talk some about my life, my journey in life, my experiences of openness (or not). as a person in a same-sex relationship and working as a minister in a church, i am in a unique position. our church/congregation is in a unique position. we have experience with this question in ways that other congregations do not. but, you need to know, this is not something we ever talk about within our church. it doesn’t really matter. i am me. my colleague is herself. we work there. we work with others. and we respect each other and others respect us…. as people. not as homosexual/heterosexual people. for us, it’s a non-issue. of course, i am sure that there are some people who may not agree, but i have not received any bad vibes or experienced any discrimination within our congregation.
so, we had a plan. we knew what we were going to talk about with the group of ministers. but, we had no idea how it would go. what they would think. i was quite nervous, to say the least. not only was i going to have to tackle talking in swedish to this group of ministers about my life, but i knew that there would be some people present who were part of a group who said that i could be present in a group of youth leaders, but that i could not teach or be a leader in any way…. because of who i am married to. gaaahh.
i asked for some positive vibes and thoughts on facebook yesterday morning before the meeting, and what amazing responses and “likes” i received!! i am so so so blessed with amazing people in my life.
well, time for the meeting came and my palms were sweaty. my breath was short & fast. my colleague began talking and explaining that we were going to take up the question of openness in the church. and then, she turned it over to me.
i told my story. quickly. from beginning to end. i told of the feeling deep within me to work in a church, or to work with my faith/my spirituality as the center of my work. i told of my marriage to a man. i told of my years of teaching in schools. i told of my years of working in a church. i told of my journey to finally decide to go to seminary and get my master’s degree. i told of my journey & acceptance as a candidate for ordained ministry.
and then, i told of the fight that i had within myself of choosing between being a good wife and following the path to seminary. and i told of the breakdown of my marriage. i told of the many people who said that i could have it all. but i didn’t believe it. i had to give up something. i told of my return to scandinavia and the return of the feeling to be true to myself. i told of my decision to move to europe, which inevitably meant that i left the church where i worked in order to chase a dream of working in a church in denmark. i told of meeting lina. i told of the unexpected love i found in her. and the marriage we embarked on.
and finally, i told of my last meeting with the board who determined the final step of my candidacy for ordination. that meeting 3 years ago, that ended all my hopes of being ordained in the umc, simply because now i was married to a woman.
nothing about me had changed. but, somehow, in that moment of being honest about being whole – of discovering that i can have it all, that i can follow my dreams and have love – everything disappeared. one sentence… one sentence wiped away everything. suddenly my eight years of experience in the church, my master’s degree, my previous recommendations for ordination were gone. my knowledge was still there. my qualifications were still there. my passion was still there. my experience was still there. my calling was still there. i was still there. the same person as i always had been, only transformed & changed through life experiences, as we all do.
but, suddenly, because of one little sentence, i was now unworthy. unwelcome.
oh yes, i had the choice to stay quiet and not say anything about my marriage, and be passed on to the last step in ordination. but, what kind of life would that be? keeping my marriage a secret? where is the integrity in living a double life? and how can the church condone that, but not condone a whole, healthy life filled with a calling and love?
nope. staying silent was never an option for me. and while it broke my heart, and i have wept many times over being left out in the cold & not accepted as myself, i was determined to be strong and stand up for myself as a whole person, secure in who i am and who i am called to be.
i said all of this to these fellow ministers yesterday. and as i talked, i watched some of them nod their heads, as if agreeing with me. and some squirm in their chairs, as if they were uncomfortable. and some who may have been in shock.
and when i was done speaking, then we began discussing. honestly. openly. without any agendas to convince others of taking on our own opinions. it was amazing and wonderful. of course we didn’t all agree with each other, but it was definitely a few hours that inspired others to begin to think a little differently perhaps. it was a time that inspired us all to look inside and see how we live out our faith and our love. do we live what we believe?
but, even though the whole discussion was based on my life and how the church can & should be open to homosexual people, i wanted to make sure that i stressed that i was not only a fighter for lgbt equal rights, but for all people who might be left out or feel unwelcome: homeless, handicapped/disabled, old, poor, foreigners…
at the end of our time together, many of the ministers said that it was a completely different thing to have a real, live person present to speak about their life, to tell their story. otherwise all we ever do is dwell in the midst of the theoretical. so true. and it was so amazing to hear that. all in all, i’d say it was a successful, difficult, loving, soul-searching time spent with colleagues.
after the meeting, i was exhausted. spent. but, i had some revelations of my own during this time.
- i want to do this more often. i want to spread my story. i want to offer workshops and facilitate discussions on this question/issue. i want to speak up and speak out. actively. i want to meet people. and i want to begin to do this when i love back to NC this summer. my story is not only my story. there are others who have experienced the same – and we need to listen to them. if i can be an ambassador and a spokesperson, then sign me up!
- i love speaking to people. perhaps it’s the preacher & teacher inside of me. i am comfortable with it. and i love to engage in conversations with others.
- perhaps this is the most important one… i discovered myself in a new way as i spoke. i came to understand how whole i am. healed. whole. truly me. faithfully me. honestly me. and that is a gift that will never be taken from me. i know exactly who i am. and i would have never known, had i not experienced all i have experienced. but i am secure. strong. sure. yep. i am no longer the liz that is torn between what she should do, who she should be, what she should choose. i have moved on… i know who i am.
- not that i am done with myself, or my journey. there is so much more for me to learn about myself and the world. there are so many more levels and facets of myself to discover. but for now, i know myself in a way that i have never known myself before. i have reached a point in my life, where i am secure in who i am. and i cannot go backwards from that.
one of the supportive messages i received on facebook yesterday was from a wonderful former seminary professor. i haven’t had contact with him since i left seminary really (almost 5 years ago), but yesterday he sent me a message that he was glad that all went well for me and a link to a beautiful video. i am so thankful that he sent it, and so touched that he thought of me.
please watch it. please know that you are entitled to your own opinions & i respect them. but, i will never stop trying to spread the message that love is love. and those of us in same-sex relationships are not different. our love is not different. our lives are not different. all we want, as we all want, is to be seen and accepted as we are… just as god loves & accepts everyone as they are, i believe.
so, what exactly does the umc mean when they say open hearts, open minds, open doors?
and isn’t it time that we open ourselves & our churches up and live as we believe?