Monday, February 4, 2008

New Bishop

Three Sundays ago, the bishopric of my ward was released.

I knew it would happen in advance, because the bishop sent an email out to members of the ward announcing the impending change in leadership, and a friend of mine in the ward forwarded the email on to me. When I read the news, my heart fluttered. Over the last two years, Bishop M. had become a very important person to me, someone who has guided me through one of the most significant spiritual transitions of my life. More than that, he had become a friend. He called me his brother. He has advised me and encouraged me. He has put his hands on my head and blessed me. I have born my testimony to him, and we have wept together.

So I'm not sure I can adequately describe the feelings I experienced on reading this news. Maybe a little anxiety about what the next bishop would be like; wondering whether he would show the same kindness and care for my soul as the old. Sadness that my relationship with Bishop M. would surely change, now that he is "just" a fellow ward member. Relief and a deep sense of satisfaction that he is still a member of our ward, and that he will still be my friend.

The following Sunday, the new bishop, Bishop B., greeted me in the hallway. He shook my hand and said he hoped that I could meet with him after church. I don't know if he specifically wanted to meet with me, or if he just wanted to meet one-on-one with all the ward members, and was extending to me the same general invitation he was extending to everybody else. But after church, there was a ward gathering to thank the out-going bishopric and welcome the in-coming. Bishop M. and I spoke briefly, and after I had thanked him for his service, he said, "I hope you will take the time to meet with Bishop B. and give him a chance to get acquainted with you." So I was starting to wonder if maybe there was more going on than just general invitations.

Bishop B. is relatively new to the ward. He joined only within the last year. I'd had only one brief conversation with him. He is a convert to the Church, and was baptized on the same date that I baptized my best friend in high school, Bill McA. He seemed like a nice enough guy, though that was about all I knew about him.

So I met with him after church yesterday. Alone in his office, we sang a hymn together. That was his idea, but he asked me to choose the hymn ("The Spirit of God"). Then we prayed together. He prayed that the Spirit would be present, and help make clear to us what course of action would be right for us to pursue.

Then I told him my story. He listened attentively, interrupting only to ask clarifying questions. He didn't bat an eye when I said simply, "I am gay." His face registered a bit of surprise when I told how I felt that the Spirit guided me to leave the Church in 1986 after nearly committing suicide, and even more surprise when I explained that I felt that the Spirit had guided me to stay committed to my partner. I told him about my 15 year relationship with Göran. I described the spiritual experience I had had nearly two and a half years ago that had prompted me to start coming back to church. I told him about our foster son.

He told me that he had counseled "many" homosexuals, I was not the first. He acknowledged it was not an easy path, but that some managed. He mentioned his acquaintance with monks -- both Buddhist and Roman Catholic -- who seemed to find a happy celibate life. It was clear to me from his comments that this was the route he felt was most appropriate for me. But he was not about to force the point. It was also abundantly clear to me that he felt this was my choice. I could not choose both my partner and membership in the Church, it was one or the other. If I chose the latter, he would do whatever he could to support me. Since I had made it clear that I had chosen the former, he still expressed interest in meeting with me on a regular basis and supporting me in making positive choices in my life. That was all I could ask for, all I really hoped for out of this meeting. He said he wished we had had longer to talk (we had to end our conversation prematurely because he had another appointment), but he invited me to set another appointment, to meet with him again next Sunday (which I will).

At the end of our meeting, he surprised me by asking me to pray. I bowed my head. His prayer had been answered, and the Spirit was present, very powerfully. As I began to pray, I felt that inimitable warmth. My eyes filled with tears. There was only one simple prayer in my heart: "I thank thee for thy Church. I thank thee for Bishop B., for his leadership of this ward, and for his kindness and friendship." I prayed for myself, for Göran, and for Glen, for the Spirit to be with us and guide us as a family.

Afterwards, on my walk home through the cool Minnesota ice scape, I reflected on our meeting. Once again, I feel myself in an oddly unresolved, unsettled situation, caught between the nice easy closure of separating myself from a Church that won't have me as a member so long as I choose my family, and the nice easy closure of divorcing myself from my family in order to be a member of the Church. There's no category for me. No set path. No clear "future." Just the strangeness of listening to the still small voice and doing what I know I am supposed to do right now, in this instant, which for the time being is all about bearing testimony, teaching, loving my partner, and raising our boy.

As always, To be continued.

12 comments:

MoHoHawaii said...

John, I know your faith means a lot to you. But, surely, the people you love will always matter more than any ideology or creed, won't they? My heart is in my throat when I read posts like this. Seriously, I want to cry.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - I am deeply moved by your comment here, and by the love behind it.

Have no fear! All will work out eventually. And no, under no circumstances will I ever betray the sacred commitments I have made to the people I love. Experiences like this, with my new bishop, if anything, help me to clarify the seriousness and the nature of those commitments.

My bishop prayed for the Spirit to give both of us clarity, so that we would know what course of action we should pursue. I walked out of his office with his prayer answered, and with a clearer than ever understanding of exactly how to stay true in the path I am already on. That included having greater insight into what I need to do to deepen and cement my commitment to my partner, and fulfill our joint commitment to our foster son.

I do not believe, I know that my unresolved state in relation to the Church will some day be resolved, in the best possible imaginable way. For the present it is just a matter of trusting that knowledge...

Beck said...

New bishops always come with some reservation, particularly if one is uniquely close with the recently released bishop. Your reservations are felt, but don't allow them to stop showing your commitment to the Church AND your family unit and to express your love and testimony for BOTH! The spirit will win out...

My prayers are with you and yours.

playasinmar said...

(I’m being a little facetious here but) You think it’s bad for you?!

Imagine the poor gay guys that did choose the straight life. There they sit week after week: committed to be in a relationship that can’t make them biologically happy and too psychologically messed-up to be happy if they did try to pursue one!

J G-W said...

Did it sound like I was complaining?

In case anyone asks... I have no complaints about my situation. It's odd, it leaves me scratching my head and wondering sometimes. It's damn inconvenient almost every day. But I have absolutely no complaints. If you ever hear me complaining, please just bitch slap me. Though I can't imagine needing to be slapped because I'm completely happy. The only time I find myself unhappy is when I stray from this path I'm on, weird as it is.

I'll let the married Moho's speak for themselves as to how happy or unhappy they are in the paths they choose to tread...

Bill McA said...

Your new bishop sounds like a wonderful man, full of the Spirit. But anyone who was baptized on August 5 HAS to be ...

J G-W said...

Beck - Thanks! I didn't expect any real difficulty. Though I suppose there was some anticipation. I always appreciate your love and prayers.

J G-W said...

Bill - :-)

Toward the end of our interview, he actually thanked me for my missionary service, and said, "Who knows how many thousands of souls you have saved through the individuals you baptized on your mission?"

I always thought of your baptism as the first baptism of my mission.

Your continuing faithfulness is such a comfort to me...

Beck said...

Playa: I'm not sure who you are speaking about in your comment, but just as impractical as it may seem that JGW finds "happiness" in his lot in life and his chose path that doesn't seem to have a road map, so do some of us who may find our lots in life in relationships that are "biologically unhappy" or "psychologically messed up".

I, for one, find myself "happy" quite often even though I'm a married MOHO.

Bill McA said...

I guess that makes me a married MOBI, then! Hrm....

GeckoMan said...

John, you know that the frozen landscape of your present environment will eventually thaw and new life will spring forward according to plan. Trust in that great thaw and the warmth of the Son, who will deliver you.

I am happy to hear that your new Bishop understands the veracity of the Spirit and is seeking to invite Him into the dialog you two will have over the following years.

Parallel Mormon said...

John,

Stay near. If presently you find that you cannot be in the Church fully, be in it as much as you can, be beside it, be near. I love how you're following your heart and the Spirit with courage rejecting the limited choices of in or out, and staying near, as near as you presently feel able. I for one welcome you, albeit from a cyber distance.