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I Found Healing in the Not-So-Strangest of Places, But, Not Like You Might Think

On Sunday, June 25, 2023, in my hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, there was an ecumenical Pride service (external link to recording of service) as one of the final events of Pride Month. My dear friend Barb, a reverend of a United Church of Christ congregation in my hometown, asked me to represent her church by doing a reading during the service. She felt it was important to ask an LGBTQ+ person to do the reading, and I being in town, was the first to come to her mind. I asked to read it before making my decision, and made sure to inform her, I do not call myself a Christian. The why of that is long and arduous and will be elaborated on briefly below, but like many in the LGBTQ+ community the capital-C Church has caused me significant harm. But, as is the case with Rev. Barb, the lower-case-c-church that is a community of people of faith--has also provided me with dearly beloved friends; people I am privileged to claim as my family, regardless of if I believe in the same version of a higher power as they do.

Informed decisions made by both the Rev. Barb and myself, I agreed to do the reading. I don't think "no" actually crossed my mind as a possibility. Not because I felt like I could not say no, but rather, because this particular reverend has worked to make the church she shepherds open and affirming, she works to educate others about LGBTQ+ people, she values us in her community; even as she is the minister at a church where I was once told by a former pastor that I'd be better off finding another church if I wanted to be both openly queer and a part of the community. The service was held at First United Methodist Church of Westfield, MA and there were several clergy who facilitated the event via planning and delivering messages during the service. It was weird but comforting that this place was open to LGBTQ+ people attending as I have vague memories of attending Sunday services in this particular church from when I was a child. Not only that, but they specifically held a pride related service to remind those in attendance that we are beloved children of a higher power, in this particular service it was a reminder that we are beloved children of a Christian God.

Image of an altar with a cross in the center, a rainbow flag and trans pride flag draped over the the ends and red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple candles. At the foot of the altar are nonperishable food items.
Image from United Methodist Church Westfield Facebook page, June 25, 2023.

Despite my hesitancy to do the reading, despite my fear of being in an affirming church for a Pride service when hate and violence against the LGBTQ+ community fills my newsfeed; despite knowing that hate is in my hometown, I did the thing. Why? Because visibility matters. Because LGBTQ+ people are indeed, beloved children of whatever higher power we believe in. Because, even though I would not call myself a Christian, I believe that LGBTQ+ affirming faith spaces are vital to my queer community's survival. Because, there are LGBTQ+ people of faith, including LGBTQ+ Christians of varying denominations. Because several LGBTQ+ people of faith were present and involved with planning this particular service who deserve to be represented and affirmed in their community. And because there are allies, like my friend Rev. Barb, who know when to pass the mic to ensure representation among the lay people, as well as the leadership.

When I am in town, and inclined to attend a church, I attend the church I was asked to represent at this service. I have chosen it because I know, when I walk into that building I am walking into the arms of a community that welcomes me, whether or not individuals know a single thing about the LGBTQ+ community in general. At the service, the primary organizer was the minister associated with the host church, United Methodist Church of Westfield, Pastor Benjiman Durfee. I want to quote something he said during the portion of the service where each of the six clergy present shared about a color of the rainbow pride flag. Pastor Durfee's color was orange,

When I can find healing for myself, then soon I find healing for my relationships. And when my relationships can find healing, my church and community can find healing, and when our community finds healing, our world can find healing. But it must begin with us. It must begin with recognizing that in all of our complexity, we are a beloved Child of God and when find that grace, it will ripple out and change the world.

This caused me to think, particularly about healing myself from the church that recruited me offline as a young teen and later kicked me out for "recruiting children" to be queer despite my only "crime" being that I called on teachers to help LGBTQ+ students feel safe in my high school. I think about how, being at this particular service felt healing for me, if only a little bit, because a little bit of healing is still a blessing. I also think of the amazing Jeffrey Marsh's new book Take Your Own Advice (2023) in which, this nonbinary icon of a human, says "Why are you so special that you deserve the most significant punishment for the slightest mistake?" (p. 81). And while I am not calling being LGBTQ+ a choice or a mistake, I think about how, for the longest time, I believed I would be sent to a fire and brimstone hell for being queer, but that my god (at that time, a Christian capital-G-God) would reserve that punishment for me alone and not other queers. I wanted to believe that even if I was sent to hell for being LGBTQ+, my queer family, some of whom have died and found their own rewards or punishments, would be safe at least based on who they loved or their true inner selves.

Kate Bornstein, another amazing gender fluid, trans, queer person, has been known to say, "Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Just don't be mean." and as long as we are not mean, if what we do gets us sent to hell, our "Auntie Kate" will do the time in hell for us. She claims it is a deal that she made with the devil themself. I live by the premise "don't be mean" and that it is as worth doing something for two people, as it is for 200. This is tattooed on my skin as "For 2 or 200," and had only one or two people shown up at this service, it still would have gone on for those one or two people and been just as worth it as if 200, or 2000 people had shown up because each person is of value and worth the time it takes to say, "You are a beloved child of god." Whichever god they choose to believe in.

As Rev. Barb and I left the church and walked to our cars parked just alongside the road, someone driving by yelled out of their truck at us and while I wish I could believe it was a bad Taylor Swift sing-along, in reality they screamed Queers, in the most derogatory sense of the word that they could muster. The reverend and I hurried to our vehicles, I waited for her car to turn on and pull forward before I put my little SUV into drive. We pulled away together, fully aware of the identities that make us targets to some people who don't see value in our lives, or who see less value in us for being LGBTQ+, for being an ally, for being assigned female at birth. I realize now, after having time to reflect, that this will be another harm I seek to continue healing along with the religious trauma, the anti-queer and anti-trans trauma, the trauma of feeling unseen in a world as big as the one we live in. So, I go back to what Pastor Durfee said, healing myself means healing my relationships, which means healing for my community, which means healing for the world.

I go back to the purpose of the service, to share with the LGBTQ+ community that we are indeed beloved children of a higher power and knowing that I am not unseen. Because I am seen. I am seen by (these) affirming faith leaders. I am seen by the students I teach and the mentors I learn from. I am seen by dear friends, and I am seen by whatever I might choose to call the higher power I believe in. As I take time to heal, I am seen by those in my life who never asked me to be something other than who and what I am, and I am even seen by those who have forced their ideals of morality onto my gender identity and sexual/romantic orientations.

I found healing in a place many have found healing over the centuries that Christianity has existed: a church. Specifically, I found healing in community with other people and I feel as though, this healing for me, might lead to healing some of my relationships, and that may lead to healing in my community which may lead to healing in the world we share together.

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