June 16, 2023

Here I am Lord

This blog is available in Spanish, click here. Este blog está disponible en español, haz clic aquí.

I was recently asked, “Are you fully out in the church?” This prompted me to recall the series of church events, which thrust my coming-out experiences.

Coming out is an everyday experience in the world and in the church. I came out in my early 40s in response to a call for an LGBT (we didn’t have the “Q” yet) ministry in my first parish, Grace Church Van Vorst (GCVV) in Jersey City. It was 1998 and the Rector issued an invitation to the lay leaders of our congregation to initiate outreach to the LGBT community. He added, “it would be wonderful if that person is also a member of the LGBT community.” I got up and without missing a beat said, “I am, and I will do it.” All jaw bones dropped and the rest is history.

Following almost immediately, there was an LGBT–affirming Diocesan service at All Saints Episcopal Parish, in Hoboken, and Bishop Spong was the preacher. There were three of us carrying the banner of our congregation. Then, came Pride Sunday, and I improvised a lay-homily as prompted by my rector: The coming out experience continued as we were officially launching this new outreach ministry. I came out to the congregation – at least to those present that day. The loving, liberating and life-giving God was there!

In October of that same year, Matthew Sheppard was brutally murdered, and again I had to speak up right on the spot (I wish I could find my rushed hand written notes from that day, I know they are somewhere in a box…). I recall my words as powerful, passionate, and liberating. I kept coming out to people who had missed prior congregational events. The loving, liberating and life-giving God was leading this life-giving moment of love and liberation to those who we ministered to and to the congregation at large.

Within a year we launched United in Grace, the LGBTQ ministry at GCVV. Within this movement other opportunities to expand our presence and ministry in the community occurred; from collaborations with the Lutheran pastor a few blocks away, to joining the forming JCLGO (Jersey City Lesbian and Gay Outreach) to help organize the first Jersey City’s LGBTQ Pride March, and then initiating a coalition of churches and LGBTQ organizations to give life to the AIDS Quilt Memorial Project, a community event observing World’s AIDS Day.

I met the giants of our LGBTQ movement in the church such as Louie Clay –AKA Louie Crew and Lutibelle -- and The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton with whom I became friends and partners in ministry. Elizabeth was the celebrant at a service to raise our Rainbow Flag in the garden and Louie came as a guest speaker of several Adult Education Forums as we addressed the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and religion. During The Oasis annual liturgies of celebration and affirmation, I also heard preach some of our national heroes such as The Reverends Michael Hopkins and Susan Russell as well as Bishop Gene Robinson.

In 1999, after I was ordained as an Interfaith Minister, Elizabeth invited me to join the Board of Directors of The Oasis, Diocese of Newark’s LGBTQ ministry. The Oasis organized the first street Eucharist at NYC’s LGBTQ Pride March: What an event that was! We continued to have this presence until the Diocese of New York -- under the passionate leadership of Paul Lane, of blessed memory -- organized us to become a featured presence during NYC’s Pride March. These days, it is such a thrill for me, when on Pride Sunday, I get to celebrate and march with the pioneers of the Diocese of Newark, such as my colleague and friend the Reverend Rose Hassan.

I recall with endearing sentiments and much gratitude, the words of Bishop John Croneberger: during a sermon he spoke about the grace he experienced when blessing the crowds at Pride March and the thanksgiving he felt when receiving the gestures of gratitude from those who received his blessing. That day I understood the relevance and impact of the collar when priests and bishops joined us at Pride March.

As a member of the Diocese of New York, it has been a true delight to see how Bishops Dietsche, Glasspool, and Shin had joined us over the years and how we are all in this celebration together.

June 2022 marked my first Pride March wearing the collar myself – and the first Pride March after the pandemic. Bishop Croneberger’s words resonated in my heart all the day long: The people watching the march would say “thank you” with their voices, hands, and hearts as I kept shouting “happy pride!” They were several occasions when during the exchange of greetings, the loving, liberating and life-giving God was so very present and powerful that tears rolled down my cheeks, and I just could not stop them from coming out. Thanks be to God!