Saints Sergius and Bacchus
Here is a young Gay man reaching out for help. I have copied and pasted this thread today from Fr. Jake Stops the World, editing out too-revealing details. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
In this dialogue I am “Josh Indiana” and the young man’s home city in Tennessee has been changed to “Smalltown.” I’ve changed his parish church to “St. Swithin’s” and his real name to “Adam.” Everything else, including St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Nashville, has been kept intact.
Read ’em and pray.
This is my issue. I am an Episcopalian looking for a church. I live in Smalltown, Tennessee. I attended St. Swithin’s Episcopal church until the Rev. NN preached the dreaded gay=aids=death sermon. I had been going to that church for almost two years. How naive I was! The e-mail Fr. NN received from me was strong yet loving and I explained to him how it made me feel. He returned an e-mail hoping to “CURE” me, to figure out the root reason for my need for my partner JJ. I love em what other reason did I need!!!!!! I had been with my partner of three years at this point. I quit going there and decided to go to St. Anns in Nashville. It is quite of a drive. NN is now gone from St. Swithin’s and the Senior rector retired. All of this was about two years ago. Now they have an interim priest and she is so sweet and nice. My partner of 5 years(count em)five years likes the Episcopal church but will not make it his home church because of Rev. NN even though he is gone. They are looking for a new rector. I am afriad to get close to that church again. I feel drawn to that place. For the two years I did attend no one really knew who I was and I never really spoke to anyone except offering them the peace. I fell in love with the way God spoke to me in that church. That may be why I never really wanted to leave. I visit occasionally still drawn to the church. I sit in the back, worshipping my God with all my heart hoping to not be noticed. What if the interim rector and assistant rector feel the same way and I dont know it. I quit inviting JJ to come along with me. He was growing and doing so well. I never wanted to make a fuss so I never asked the questions. It is not safe for someone like me to ask questions. Father Jake please give me some words of wisdom. I have tried so hard to figure out what to do. I have prayed and I am waiting for a sign.
Adam Street | 09.29.07 – 10:08 am | #
Adam, it has to be safe for someone in your position to ask questions of a rector or assistant rector, if you ask those questions in confidence, “under the seal of confession,” as it were. And you have every right to do so.
Having said that, I have to add that four years ago, I did seek spiritual counsel from a Network rector in Central Florida, who betrayed every one of my confidences to all and sundry. But why did I do something so foolish as to seek counsel from a Network rector? Because said rector was posing as a liberal (at the time, to me, though not to others). This priest, an ambitious sort, saw me as weak and fearful, easily kicked to the wall. What the priest did to me was a betrayal of ordination vows — but then, so was joining the Network!
I experienced this betrayal as emotionally catastrophic, and it has taken me some years to work through it, but I’ve learned the truth of the saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Adam, make some enquiries of this rector and assistant rector before you decide to trust them — but if they are faithful to their ordination vows, they will not betray your confidences.
Charlotte | 09.29.07 – 10:54 am | #
Adam–Here are some other considerations. There will be a selection committee to pick the new rector (usually but not always vestry people). Knowing something about them and their views would also be helpful. Why did the former rector leave? What is the general position of the bishop in your diocese regarding GLBT issues? And, I think this last question is key here.
Bonnie | 09.29.07 – 12:18 pm | #
I am not Fr. Jake but I will attempt to give you something useful until you hear from him. He will give you good advice. Here’s my opinion as a peer from a small town.
1. Stick with your lover, no matter what. It’s obviously a good relationship.
2. Twice you say, “I feel drawn to that church.” You need to identify why; what is it that’s unique about St. Swithin’s that draws you? Conversely, how much are you drawn by what Episcopalians have in common? (Book of Common Prayer, eucharist, music, etc.) Is God really drawing you to St. Swithin’s or to the Episcopal Church?
3. When you go to St. Swithin’s, go by yourself, keep hanging out in the back and worshiping without getting involved in parish life.
4. When you go to St. Ann’s, Nashville, invite JJ to go with you. It’s only (X number of) miles, right? Many Episcopalians in small towns have to drive further than that, but I understand you don’t want to do that every week. Maybe do Nashville once a month, or major feast days, and Smalltown more often.
5. You don’t have to question the clergy in Smalltown, especially amidst a rector search. Just listen to what they say in sermons, newsletters, etc. for any “unsafe” leanings OR trustworthy ones.
6. If you do get to a place where you want to ask questions, don’t make it personal. That’s actually an advantage in the current controversy; Gay issues are national and international, and laypeople can ask where the clergy stand simply out of concern for the church. Leave your own story out of it unless and until you come to trust them.
7. Feed all of this into your prayer life. Ask God what you should do. (He gives even better counsel than Fr. Jake!) And listen for the answer. (That means silence on your part.)
8. Try incorporating/adapting the Daily Office into your home life with JJ, maybe something like this: Sit down to dinner, say a little prayer over the food, and read the psalm of the day to your lover while he eats. It’s amazing how much sanctity that brings into a relationship. At bedtime maybe read Compline together sometimes. (This assumes some Prayer Book literacy. If you don’t own a Prayer Book, buy one.)
In other words you’re doing a lot right. Relax, stop struggling so hard. Your relationship with God doesn’t depend on the attitude at St. Swithin’s, and remember you have options with which to nurture your spirituality at home and at St. Ann’s. If the new rector in Smalltown turns out to be good, you’re in like Flint; if not, you’re still in good shape.
Good luck; you’re in our prayers.
Josh Indiana | Homepage | 09.29.07 – 1:31 pm |
Josh – what beautiful abnd prayerful advice.
Adam, I doubt anyone here could have said it better.
Davis | Homepage | 09.29.07 – 2:14 pm | #
Adam, if you don’t own a Book of Common Prayer you can buy copies from $17 from Church Publishing Company. Larger sizes cost more.
Also there are web versions available.
Paul (A.) | 09.29.07 – 2:18 pm | #
Josh has given you excellent advice. I can’t really add much, except for possibly one thing.
I encourage you to find someone that you can talk to about this; someone you trust.
It might be a priest, but it doesn’t have to be. Just someone whose life reveals that they are spiritually healthy.
The internet is a wonderful tool. But sometimes we need more. We are Incarnational people. Sometimes we need a God with skin on. We need to reveal God to one another in more than words. We need flesh and blood people, who cry tears we can see, and whose smile can warm our hearts.
I sense in you a caring soul whose heart longs for God. That is a gift. But it can also lead to being vulnerable to being deeply hurt by those who whose hearts have become hardened. Only you know how much you can allow yourself to be hurt without it becoming detrimental to your own spiritual health. When that happens, you need to walk away.
But, to the degree that you can shrug off such abuse, it is important that you recognize that one hardened heart in the pulpit is not the Church. Don’t let anyone deny you the sacraments. When we do that, they win, and the Church has become perverted.
You are the Beloved of God. Don’t let anyone ever try to rob you of that precious gift.
Maybe someone here knows your area. If you know someone who Adam might talk to regarding this, send me an email, and I’ll pass on your recommendation to Adam.
jake333 at hotmail dot com
Let’s remember to hold each other up in our prayers.
Jake | Homepage | 09.29.07 – 2:40 pm | #
Adam–Here is the link for the BCP on line.
Thanks Paul (A.). I wouldn’t have thought of the on-line without your suggestion to Adam.
Bonnie | 09.29.07 – 2:46 pm |
Adam, i would be pleased to gift you a copy of the BCP. If you will send jake your address, I’ll send the book to him and he can forward to you, or you can send me your address (to polysloguy@yahoo) and I’ll send it to you directly.
By the way, the yahoo address is for my junk mail so please put FR. JAKE in your subject line.
James the First | 09.29.07 – 3:39 pm | #
I know people that attend St.Swithin’s in Smalltown. It is a very conservative congregation both socially and in practice. They have never been known to be a welcoming community. Then tend to be ‘old guard Southern planter types’ with all that baggage to carry. Don’t look for any help or support from Bishop Bauerschmidt. He is very conservative and half of the active members in the clergy of the diocese would walk into the Network’s loving arms if they could get away with it.
I agree with Josh and Jake. Stay there and quietly worship God and ignore the rest. My beloved was an atheist that was also from an old guard Southern planter class family with a great grandfather that was wounded at the battle of Smalltown and obviously never went to church with me. Don’t force your lover to go with you if it makes him unhappy. Why waste the relationship that is so important to you. Take him to the Short Mountain Radical Faerie Sanctuary (in Liberty) just YY some miles east of you near Woodbury and worship together with the Wiccans. That is a group that brings new meaning to joyous, happy and free. That is an amazing experience and very spiritual. You don’t say – God be with you’. Your will learn to say – merry meet, merry part and merry meet again.
I just chatted with a friend that goes there. The rector retired because of his age. My friend is also waiting to see how things go with a new rector and is thinking of leaving St Swithin’s. He has been a member forever.
Terry Dyslexia | 09.29.07 – 3:56 pm |
Josh Indiana, Jake, Terry Dyslexia — thanks. I learned a lot by reading your responses to Adam.
Charlotte | 09.29.07 – 5:13 pm | #
Thank you all for your responses! I have been blessed. I really didn’t expect to get an answer so quick. Please do remember to pray for me. My journey into the Episcopal church started at the University of The South when I was a teenager spending summers at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. My health has never been its best due to a blood clotting disorder. I struggled with why I was sick and why I was gay. I was raised in the Pentecostal church. I knew when I heard the prayers from the BCP, that this was me. I found a contemplative peace that will always be deep within my soul. I do have a BCP that a very good friend gave to me when I was 16. I had to hide it from my family. During the Summers, I was an Episcopalian, but during the fall I was an Pentecostal. After my relationship with my family ended and I was in college, independent, and working full-time struggling with my health I met JJ. I feel saddened by all of this. I don’t feel angry. I know I shouldn’t take it personal but it’s hard. The rejection of my family and the difficulty for finding a church. God has got me on a search. I feel hungry. I am fed by God’s love for me and the joy that comes from the Gospels. I do need a church though. I have taken communion beside people that would probably would not want me beside them if they knew me. What is crazy is that whatever we disagree on or how much they judge me I don’t care. I still love them anyway. I would still want to take communion beside them because there is something greater than our disagreement..
Adam | 09.29.07 – 8:02 pm | #
Thank you all for your responses to Adam. What a fabulous prayer community this is!
As I looked over my comment, I wish I’d added these things, Adam: God loves you just as you are, in your love, in your body and all your humanity. Nothing you can ever do will separate you from the love that is in Christ Jesus.
How’s that for cool?!
Charlotte: Thank you for responding to Adam in less than an hour, and relating your own trauma with a deceptive and destructive rector. It’s a good reminder for those of us who don’t get exposed too often to toxicity (except on Viagratown). Clergy bring to their parishes all their human baggage, and the toxic priests compulsively act it out. Adam’s experience of the dreaded gay=aids=death sermon is the grossest version of what is sometimes a bit more subtle. Thank you for the warning.
Nowhere did St. Paul write, “Beware your priest, until s/he proves herself.” I sometimes wish he had.
Thanks to Bonnie for good data-gathering tips and the BCP link-even though I think the best Daily Office site is Dailyoffice.org
Thanks to Paul (A.) for where to buy a Prayer Book and to James the First for the lovely offer of one to a young Christian.
Thanks to Terry Dyslexia for first-hand knowledge of Adam’s parish and bishop (though I do not endorse your wiccan advice; faeries are nice but Jesus is God, and Adam doesn’t need any added confusion).
Jake’s counsel is the fullest: we need a God with skin on, people who will listen and respond and cry; an e-mail address from someone with no agenda but our own spiritual health. Adam, get in touch with Jake. All he wants is to love you through this turmoil.
That’s all any of us want, including TerryD.
I tell ya, peoples, God invented the internet—the same God who consented to take skin on.
Josh Indiana | Homepage | 09.29.07 – 8:06 pm