Earlier this summer, I was invited to preach at All God's Children - Metropolitan Community Church. I was invited to do so in my capacity as a scholar of gay history, and as a recently hired adjunct teacher at United Theological Seminary. I preached at All God's Children this morning (and have posted my sermon here for those of you interested in reading it).
For those of you unfamiliar with the MCC, it is a predominantly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender denomination. And the moment I walked through the doors of that Church I felt the Spirit in a most remarkable, indescribable, powerful way. I was immediately and warmly welcomed by some of the lay ministers and worship leaders, who then quickly ushered me into the office where we briefly reviewed the order of worship. But all that time I was utterly awestruck and humbled by the impression I was receiving from the Spirit that God was very, very pleased with this Church, and that his Spirit would be poured out in abundance this morning.
This astonishing sense of the Spirit's presence was all the more remarkable to me in that the twenty-four hours or so prior to walking into this Church I had felt particularly devoid of the Spirit. Ever since reading some very condescending comments on the Millennial Star blog, I had been struggling with an almost overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness. In the last nearly two years since I have entered into the path of seeking to live faithfully as a Latter-day Saint, I have had a growing sense of the Spirit's presence in my life, to the point that I have felt his presence as an almost constant companion. And yesterday, it was as if a light bulb had been switched off. I felt cold, dark, and alone inside, and found myself getting down on my knees several times throughout the day asking forgiveness and pleading for the Spirit to come back. I don't blame Millennial Star. My own anger at some of the comments I read was the culprit. My own anger. I am to blame. I own this. Though ironically, the topic of the blog had to do with asking whether gay and lesbian couples might be appropriately welcomed into worship in LDS Churches; and I must say that the impression I was left with was distinctly frosty and unwelcoming. And so there was some sadness and despair mixed in with the anger. Once I recognized exactly why I had lost the Spirit, I found the Spirit quietly returning and reminding me of the importance of not giving in to anger, no matter what the provocation. I have been praying prayers of gratitude since, for an all-important reminder about how the Spirit works.
But this morning, I walked into a church whose very raison-d'être is the fact that gay men and lesbians have simply been utterly unwelcome in the churches they were raised in. And if the return of the Spirit the night before had been like a light bulb turning back on in my heart, here in this church it was like floodlights shining down from Heaven. And as I stood up before the sanctuary to preach this morning and looked out over the audience into their faces, I could not but think, "Here is a congregation of people who, despite all the rejection they've experienced from those claiming to be people of faith, have stuck with God. They have turned to him in faith, and with them God is very, very pleased."
All God's Children MCC has an open communion. All are invited to partake. And the way in which they administer communion is that one person holds the communion wafers and a chalice of grape juice, and a second person takes a wafer, dips it into the chalice and then puts it into the mouth of the person receiving communion. Then he or she draws you close in an embrace, putting their arm around you, and praying with you and giving you a blessing. I don't know the name of the young man who put his arm around me and prayed with me and blessed me, but his prayer was heartfelt and filled with love and with the Spirit, and I wept. I looked around me and saw all the others coming forward to receive this reminder of Christ's love and death for each of us, and the tears continued to flow as I felt the Spirit poured out most powerfully.
After the service, I stood at the back of the sanctuary where folks came to shake my hand and thank me for the sermon. Later, I went downstairs for refreshments and to speak more with any members of the church who wished. Among those who introduced themselves to me were a couple of former Latter-day Saints.
My partner Göran was there with me, and an interracial couple came up and introduced themselves to us. When one of the lay ministers introduced me, she mentioned that Göran and I had been together for fifteen years, and this couple congratulated us. When we asked how long they had been together, they told us "Thirty-six years." They were beaming. "You learn a lot about yourself and about your loved one, staying together that long," I said. "Oh, yes," they replied, "And it takes work." We met another gay male couple there who had been together for fifty years.
One fellow who came from a very conservative Protestant tradition approached me and asked, "What is it like to be excommunicated from the Mormon Church?" When I asked him what he meant, he explained, "When I was excommunicated, afterwards they wouldn't even speak to me. I wasn't allowed to set foot in the church. If they saw me on the street, they would turn their backs on me and walk away." "The Mormons don't do that to you," I replied, with a sense of gratitude. "They actually encourage you to keep coming to church after you've been excommunicated," I said. "You're lucky," he replied.
Another fellow came up and told me how, when he was a marine, he had wanted to commit suicide. He had planned to do it by jumping into the propeller of the ship he was stationed on. He tried twice, but each time he tried, he felt someone tapping him on the shoulder. When he turned around the first time, he did not see anyone. The second time, he saw a personage of light. After that, he knew he needed to try to go on with his life. "I knew that God had some purpose for me," he said.
One older brother (one of the men who had been in a committed relationship for fifty years) said he was sorry that I had not been one of the people to administer the communion. "I so wanted to receive a blessing from you," he said.
He wanted a blessing from me. What blessing did I have to give? They were the ones who blessed me. I thank my Heavenly Father for All God's Children MCC.