culture lbgtqai+ north carolina

what does it mean to be open?

28 Feb 2013

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.

church

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.

candle

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.

cozy

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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

the fight for equality continues. peace & love, my friends.

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  • Reply bornbyariver 28 Feb 2013 at 12:53

    Im sorry that love necessitated a schism between you and your church. You are shining your light exactly where it needs to go. I admire your ongoing commitment to your truth, and believe doors will open on your journey, allowing you to have it all, and you will bring much needed change.

    • Reply liz 4 Mar 2013 at 22:07

      thank you so much for your comment. it warmed my soul and gave me a kick of inspiration to keep fighting. i have no idea if i even care to follow through with church things in my life after i leave sweden, but i will certainly keep fighting to the rights of all people. everywhere.

  • Reply kate1975 28 Feb 2013 at 12:55

    Your post made me cry, not in a good way, but in a bad way when you lost something precious that should never have been taken from you. I’m glad that you were able to talk. It took a lot of courage and shows a lot of bravery. It sounds as though you have found a new area of your future, one that sounds like it can be full of adventure. I would have loved to hear what you said, it sounds great.

    I’ve gone to churches like this, lovely churches with many lovely people, but they did not believe in equality. I realize that many people are loving and good and kind and yet the things they do and believe are not so much. I was told all kinds of hateful things, as though they were self-evident, as though everyone should agree, as though it was the beliefs of God. I had to leave them, I really couldn’t do it anymore, I wanted so much to be loved and accepted and I was unfortunately brainwashed into believing something that was stated as fact by those that I wanted to trust, without any facts to bear it up.

    After all, God is love. Jesus said that if we treat others as we want to be treated we have a good plan for the rest of our life. I want love, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion, equality.

    As you say, love is love. I say that too.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.

    Kate

    • Reply liz 4 Mar 2013 at 22:09

      Thank you so much, Kate. I can feel your healing thoughts, and this is something that I have been working on healing from inside me for a long time.

      I do not know what the future holds for me… whether I will pursue any job within the church or not when i move to the States. I tend to think/feel that it is time to move on to something else. Because I want all the things you want.

      Sending you thoughts of wholeness and peace. xo

  • Reply Barb 28 Feb 2013 at 13:41

    What a fascinating (if scary) journey God has led you on! What a blessing that you have become secure in who you are. What a gift you have with your witness and your words. I think telling your story in NC is a wonderful idea. Keep preachin’ God’s love, Liz!

    • Reply liz 4 Mar 2013 at 22:10

      Thanks, Barb!! You are so very kind to say that.

  • Reply MakingSpace 28 Feb 2013 at 16:48

    That sounds exhausting and courageous. I never considered staying in a church once I came out, even though I, too, have been to seminary. Your strength inspires.

    • Reply liz 4 Mar 2013 at 22:11

      Awww… thanks. 🙂 And it is so cool to learn something new about you. Now, I am totally curious about some stories you have to tell. Think Ill have to head your way for some sunshine and girl talk. 😉

  • Reply Michel King 28 Feb 2013 at 19:10

    What an amazing story! I have felt a call as well, but the timing is not at all right for me at the moment. I will say, however, that if you still have the calling and wish to pursue a life in a church as a minister, you might want to check out UNITY. They are a Christian organization of churches that is supportive of the LGBT community. Their program is 3 years of classes held in Kansas City Missouri. Not sure if that is a path you wish to tread, but I attend a Unity church and cannot possibly be happier with my church community. Openness and acceptance are felt each time I walk through the doors.

  • Reply liz 4 Mar 2013 at 22:13

    Thank you, Michael!! And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate the tips of some more inclusive churches. It’s always good to hear that there are churches & people out there who are open to all people, thus living the true gospel, I believe.

    I wish you luck on your journey, whether it takes you to seminary or not. 🙂

  • Reply momentsofmezz 5 Mar 2013 at 07:38

    Liz, I’ve read this post about 3 or 4 times since you published it. I watched the video twice. And it gives me goosebumps every time, plus a whole host of feelings that I’m not sure what to make of.

    1. You amaze me. With your strength, your hope, your optimism, your beliefs, your faith, your steadfastness, your intelligence. Your intensity and love and stubbornness. Being rejected by those you placed your heart in and refusing to sacrifice your true self because you recognized the importance of it, the impact of it.
    2. Yearning feelings, envy, I guess you could call it. That you know who you are, what you are on this earth for, what you are meant to do and called to do. And knowing your true self, after all your struggles. I understand it takes struggles to learn, like you can’t find the rainbow without the rain, but seeing it at work in you is absolutely inspiring.
    3. Your love for everyone and everything is awe-inspiring. Your outlook on life and human nature in general is humbling. And that might be because of the struggles you’ve been through, or despite them, I don’t quite now. But either way, this shows your strength and inner wisdom. You are unique, just for that. <3
    4. If you were to speak or hold conversation groups, I would love love love to attend them. I believe you have so much to share with the world, so much to teach people. That video was beyond words. I've never been discriminatory to anyone, but that video brought my love for humans up a notch (that's saying a lot). It's so difficult to find good things in people these days, but I think you've opened the door for me to realize that it's inside of each of us.

    Thank you, Liz, for being so unique, so loving, and so inspiring. And I wish you best on the rest of your journey. <3

    • Reply liz 6 Mar 2013 at 07:24

      heather,
      i. am. blown. away.
      what a humbling, amazing, and touching comment. thank you so very much for your kind words of support.
      i don’t know what to say.
      wishing so much love & peace to you as you continue your journey. you are well on your way!
      xo

  • Reply Alarna Rose Gray 7 Mar 2013 at 14:45

    You’re a brave woman, Liz! 🙂

    • Reply liz 9 Mar 2013 at 23:11

      aww.. thank you. but, i just can’t stay silent on some things, ya know? 🙂

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