After the United Methodist Church voted to entrench its rejection of LGBTQ people, the pain in our community was palpable. We knew we had to respond. We could talk about how homophobic theology is damaging. We could condemn bigotry masquerading as God-talk. But that’s not the story we see every day at Union. We see a vibrant queer, community of faith—alive and flourishing. We see radical love that transcends every sinful boundary humans create. And we thought we’d tell that story instead, in their own voices.
If you’re growing up in a Church that isn’t affirming;
if you’ve ever been told that who you love or how you identify is sinful;
if you were taught that God rejects you;
if you struggle to fully love yourself—in all of your God-given beauty:
This project is dedicated to you.
And we invite you to join us! If you feel called, post a photo and reflection on social media, and tag it #queerfaith.
Hannah Ervin | M.Div. Student
My name is Hannah, I’m a queer person of faith currently discerning ordination in the United Methodist Church. I fell in love with the Wesleyan quadrilateral, which urges Methodists to consider tradition, reason, and experience alongside a deep respect and love for scripture. The UM communities I have been a part of are fiercely committed to creating justice and joy in their congregations and in the world.
But my heart is currently breaking for a church that I know and love. Recently, the institutional church voted to uphold and further restrict LGBTQ inclusion in the church, in all ministries, including ordination. The institutional church is leaving out a crucial part of the Church, it is distancing itself from its commitment to lived experience. Queer ministry, as a queer United Methodist, looks like working for justice and full inclusion of all people in a tradition that is working to leave out people like me, and committing to recognizing the sins of racism, colonialism, and white supremacy in our church. It is working to fulfill the faithful promise of my baptismal vow to accept the power that God gave me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms the present themselves, especially within the church I call home. Queering faith means trusting in God when systems fail to assert the worth of all peoples. My faith in God keeps me going when institutions and denominations fall short.
I have taken a soft hands approach to my faith, I let everything I cannot control fall away, and what is left in my hands is my faith in God and my call to work for justice. My queer faith means bringing all of who I am to the table, knowing that the love and grace of God is our hope, and that everything else is sinking sand.
Hassan Xavier Henderson-Lott | M.Div. Student
I was still very young and didn’t have the languages necessary to identify my perpetual sadness for what it was—depression. I wasn’t wholly convinced into believing that Jesus really loved the ‘me’ that I only pretended to like. I didn’t actually think much of what God might actually think of me if I actually told *him the truth about what I thought then as my own-personal-‘sin.’ I failed to realize that my prayers for deliverance were, in earnest, an attempt to escape the horrors of a kind of divine temptation; that is, to experience, on the body, the love of God, by the touch of another as beautiful as me. And it came to pass, after much ‘working with fear and trembling’ that I would eventually come into the knowing that my blackqueer life has always already been implicated in histories of those spaces called “Black Church.”
I could not then, in the way I do now, realize that in our living, Blackqueers have always transfigured seemingly repressive church space into sanctuary for our own soul salvation. Our contribution is tangible—not merely in song, but in administration, and preached Word(s) alike. Sadly, our blackness, our queerness is at once rendered alternatively seen and unseen often according to denominational or congregational say-so. Thus, the lives and stories of our beloved have gone, too long, undocumented. And still it remains true that their lives, the labors of Blackqueers, our struggle as means of survival in ministry continue to shape the contours of this social fabric known by some as “The Black Church.”
*I’ve since moved beyond an orientation to popular imaginings which insist on the divine as white-masculine-autocrat
Dr. Su Yon Pak ’99 | Senior Director and Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-Based Education
As a Korean immigrant, I discovered at an early age the power of language beyond what is spoken or written. Not understanding a single word of English, I had to quickly learn the language of bodies—how bodies “spoke” in classrooms, streets and in the playground.
My faith, more specifically Presbyterian faith, both grounded in, and in dissonance with Confucian-Buddhist traditions, communes through the language of the body. There is always much more there than what I can articulate. My faith lives in the interstices of my body. In the tune of a familiar hymn, in the feverish desires, in the cool assurances of the heart, in the well-practiced bows of honor to the ancestors, and in the spirit-filled tears, my body was/is the container that held and nurtured my faith.
Being Queer is like that too. It is how I live out my life in my body with authenticity and truth, refusing the either/or binary—my erotic desires and my faith desires praying together in tongues with logic of its own. As we show up in the fullness of who we are, both Queer and faithful, we, together enact leitourgia (liturgy), public work of the faithful people. At family tables, in pulpits, in classrooms, in public and movement spaces, we show up, fully present to be seen and to be counted.
Won’t you join me in this sacred liturgy?
Scott Sprunger | M.Div. Student
Being a queer person in ministry means having the courage to embody a love that is deeper and more profound than the limited imaginations of an oppressive and hateful world. Those of us who are queer or trans and Christian know what it’s like to be told by the church and by society at large that we are unacceptable, unnatural, and unloveable. But none of us survive without love. In fact, God’s love is more radical, more expansive, more transgressive, more inclusive—and yes, more Queer—than the church often realizes.
My identity as a queer person cannot be separated from my identity as a minister. I belong to the Mennonite church which, as a matter of polity, does not ordain LGBTQ people. Sometimes it can feel like I’m throwing myself at a brick wall, expecting the wall to move. But I believe in a God who tears down walls with nothing but the sound of a trumpet—a God who makes a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. God is doing a new thing for the world in the lives of queer and trans people. It falls on the church to join the party or get out of the way.
As a queer minister, I’m passionate about sticking up for people who have been hurt or excluded by the church because I know what that feels like. I dream of a day when everyone—regardless of race, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, age, or class—is treated like the child of God they are. Until then I’ll do my part to make that dream a reality. I hope you’ll join me!
Kamryn Wolf | M.Div. Student
ultimate reality is the clenching of deep abdominal muscles while bike riding up a hill, the feeling of flying down the other side one foot from the edge of an unfenced precipice. floating naked on top of rolling waves, thighs warmed by my piss as its rushes to greet the salty ocean. ultimate reality is the ritual reorientation away from the womb and towards other vessels of creation, administered through the fine tip prick of a needle. it’s also taking an appropriately solid shit.
ultimate beauty is the burning heat of flesh furiously grinding against flesh, rained on by pungent droplets of cum and sweat. the transcendental experience of losing self-consciousness while nose-deep in a forest of pubic hairs, while wet lips glide along wanting tongue, while vertebrae swell against soft winds of breath. ultimate beauty engulfs me when I am trusted to slap my lover across their sweet, accommodating cheeks, to pound at their mountainous, aching chest. the courage of confident reception. the humility of unselfish offering.
ultimate truth is the existence of all things in/between, neither this nor that, beyond, both/and. the complete acceptance that truth is always also not truth. elusive. ephemeral. the confused dance through negative and positive space. the impossible quest for wholeness while inhabiting a body that is missing parts, a city that is crumbling beneath its buildings, a planet that is dangling in a universe of unfathomable reach and grandeur. the painfully generative cycles of birth and death that each being survives in a single lifetime.
this is ministry. my queer ministry. ministry that speaks from and to and with our sense-able and response-able bodies, bodies that are neither mine nor yours but ours, porous and transitional and divine.
Dan DeBrucker-Cota | M.Div./M.S.S.W. Student
My husband, Brian, and I came out to our families when we were both thirty. While our story seems almost like a fairytale, there have been struggles because of our identity. Over the past eighteen years we have both become stronger in our faith; silently and together, answering God’s call to ministry. Our collective families, our Presbyterian sisters and brothers have all embraced and empowered us to rise above the oppression, and take on roles of leadership, at a time when being gay was not recognized in the church. We did not resist, and the church later agreed with us. Jesus did not give up on you, and neither will God, don’t give up on them. You are not alone, you are with a larger family of God’s children – loved way beyond the damning words of society’s insecurity.
Jessica Tezen | M.Div. Student
Ministry to me means that I am an extension and reflection of God to others. How I live my life and how I reflect God by the way that I treat people can either help move people to want to know God or not want to know God. Personally, I want to help people move God out of the box they put the Divine in. People should experience a God that is moved by love and not by empire. People should expect to experience a God that encourages diversity and fights against the oppression of people, especially the people who identify as LGBTQ+.
For me identifying as a lesbian and a follower of Jesus means I get to go back to my LGBTQ+ community and tell them the people inside the church had it all wrong the first time. I get to be a living witness to my LGBTQ+ community that God does love us and that we are able to love God, love our partners and love how we identify. If we continue to believe that God has favorites then we are directly going against the Gospel of Jesus. It is not realistic to call ourselves believers of God and hate the very people God has created. Ministry to me is not queer or straight, ministry to me is to love God and love others which is what I have been called by God to do. Love will take us further and until all of humanity is able to understand this, we still have work to do.
Cassie Hartnett | M.Div. Student
Dear sixteen-year-old Cassie,
You asked your youth director today if maybe you should become a pastor. She believes in you, but you’re going to push the idea away until later in college. You have so many things you’re going to try first—you want to write bad poetry and be in weird plays and have excruciatingly painful crushes. Someday, one of those crushes will be on a girl. You won’t feel weird about it, and you’ll be so grateful for the sweetness of learning something new about how God made you. Later, you’re going to fall in love with a girl and get your heart smashed into a thousand pieces.
Here’s the thing about your wild, irrepressible, dramatic heart: God created it, and you, to love so hard that you want to change things. Your fierce, queer little heart is so stubborn, it won’t let you rest until you start speaking up, and start listening even more. There are people out there who don’t believe you should do what God called you to do because of who you love and how you wear red lipstick and cry a lot. Your family and church support you and you are so, so lucky to have them; you will listen to the stories of other queer people who have endured trauma in the name of the God you know is love and justice, and I urge you to hold them close. Be full of humility in the knowledge that so many have fought and continue to fight for your right to put on that collar, step into that pulpit, and claim your truth.
Ten years from now, you’re going to graduate seminary.
You’ll be a candidate for ordination in the ELCA.
You’re going to be broken, brave, queer, and loved.
Christina Ellsberg | M.A. Student
Throughout my life, I practiced prayer in my daily communion with animal life. While refilling water buckets floating with hay, while scrubbing out tanks that housed breeding frogs or nickel-sized turtles, while feeding peanuts, one at a time, to my fat, curious rats, I knew my hands were praising God.
It felt like a cosmic joke when I felt the undeniable call to a Roman Catholic priesthood that would not accept me. I still long for the vows that would make my body a cloister and my soul a row of Dogwood trees shading the throne reserved for God—vows which are doubly unattainable to me as a gay woman. People tell me all the time it’s as easy as switching denominations. But I love my communion of Saints. I love my Pope. And I am never closer to God than when my hands are busy in the care and study of animals.
So I defer to that old Catholic maxim: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” I’ll never wear a collar, but I can wear barn boots. I’ll never break the eucharist, but I can scoop grain into a trough. While the institutional Church may reject the form of my love, the form of my body, and the forms of my prayer, I will live out my ministry by living fully into all three. And I will live out my ministry by continuing to share and rejoice in the diversity of small perfections that abound in all creation.
Rev. Fred Davie | Executive Vice President
The Psalmist says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Embrace it. Own it. Live it.
Karen Madrone | M.Div. Student
As someone who grew up fundamentalist Baptist, I received the message over and over again, implicit and direct, that being a GLBTQ person meant not only being sinful but even worse no longer loved by God. The message was clear that GLBTQ people should be kicked out of the church and they should lose everything they love, including their relationship with God. When I realized that I am a lesbian and that I couldn’t change that any more than I could voluntarily stop breathing, I felt lost and confused for a long time. I couldn’t understand why I was this way and I prayed and cried to no longer be gay. I slowly came out and received horrible letters from family members telling me how sinful I am. As a result, I left everything that had anything to do with the church. I just couldn’t stay in such a painful place. In time, I even came to believe that it was true: that God stopped loving me.
But thankfully God wasn’t done with me. Through a deep need for community, I reached out to a church in my community that is GLBTQ accepting and loving. They loved me back into being all of who I am, even my spiritual side that I believed was taken away from me. They showed me that I have gifts to bring to the world and that the parts of me that were rejected can bring healing to others. God has not forgotten me. God never stopped loving me. I can now say that I am a lesbian repairing my relationship with the Divine who never left me, who was always there for me. With God’s help I am bringing ministry to this hurting world and spreading the message that God never stops loving us. No one is left out.
Mary Walker | M.A. Student
“You can’t be what you can’t see” was told to me and for awhile I believed it. My experience of being queer in the Church is limited because for the longest time I thought those two identities had to be siloed. I grew up in a progressive and accepting Catholic church but somehow out of the 10,000+ members no one was openly LGTBQ+.
You can’t be what you can’t see.
I thought that if I was queer then I couldn’t Catholic and that if I was Catholic I couldn’t be queer. This was incredibly damaging as the two belonged in relation with one another and if I were to ever live in my truth then these two aspects of my identity at some point, had to merge. Eventually I went to a Jesuit college and I met people who were both Catholic and identified as LGBTQ+. I was excited, I had found my home. I experienced God in a new and intimate way that I had previously not had access to. Claiming my queer identity as a young Catholic woman was hard and there was certainly backlash when I came out.
While I dream of a Catholic Church that is 100% affirming and inclusive, for now I am happy to be part of a community that encourages me to embrace these two aspects of my identity. I am happy to do the legwork of creating spaces for LGBTQ+ Christians to come together in a safe environment to engage in fellowship. I firmly believe that the future of the Church is queer and that is why I chose to stand in the light and be a part of this project. So others can look to me as a young, queer, Catholic woman and they can finally be what they can see.
Rev. Benjamin Perry ’15 | Deputy Director of Communications & Marketing
I’ve never come out publicly before. Partly because I’m a pretty private person and partly because, as a bisexual man married to a woman, I didn’t have to—a privilege I want to name. Mostly, though, I haven’t come out because venom spewed at queer folk led me to hide a core part of myself. And, I lived the best-case scenario: I attended a church that celebrated LGBTQ people, and have an amazingly supportive family who I knew would love me for all of who I am. But I grew up breathing the same toxic air, hearing the same voices that said my attraction to men was sinful, impure, deviant. I internalized that shame—shame that was the world’s, not mine—and covered something beautiful.
But, in the words of Dr. King, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal,” and for me that time is now. I never feel queerer than when I watch churches reject LGBTQ people; tell us we are something less than God’s wondrously created children. Watching Christians wrap bigotry in biblical veneer breaks something in me; it perverts the gospel into pain, places violence in God’s mouth.
Church is an opportunity for something incredible: We get to tell people that they matter; that they have sacred dignity and worth; that they are loved, wholly and completely by God; that they belong in a community. We get to look people in the eye and remind them, “You carry the divine spark, God delights in your love and joy!” We can proclaim a God who breaks through every fixed border we create, a God who is fundamentally queer. Let’s tell that story instead.
Victoria Gillon | M.Div. Student
If there is anything I have learned about queerness, it is that we cannot be solely defined by institutions and systems. That goes against the very nature of queerness itself. I think we need to talk about what it means to be queer spiritual leaders outside of institutions whose goal is to not see us as human and leave us devoid of abundance and pleasure. I call on my black and brown queer ancestors who lived their lives navigating the boundaries of their queerness in spectacular ways. I call on my ancestors with a fierce love for God, spirituality, and the people. I call my strength and imagination to dream of places our queerness is dignified, thriving, and celebrated. I invite you to keep dreaming and creating with me.
Anne Brink | M.Div. Student
As I prepare to receive precepts in the Soto Zen tradition this upcoming fall, I take a vow to liberate all beings from suffering. More than liberation from suffering, however, is an invitation for all beings to flourish and have the permission to be their most authentic selves in this lifetime. As a queer person practicing Zen, I directly equate my experience of queerness in the body with the flourishing of an authentic self that is often unknown to me. While being honestly intimate with this self and its unfolding mystery is a difficult and ongoing practice, I hope it can serve as a mirror for other queer persons of faith, to give them the space, support, and permission to do the same.
By practicing with the bodies we have right now in this moment, we all get to be mirrors, and to look into a collective mirror together. Zen, like many other religious traditions, is not perfect in both its history and structures of supporting women and queer-identifying people in practice roles. However, this imperfection is an enormous, even beautiful opportunity for queer persons to take up space in practice roles and advocate for themselves within community. In times of harm, I remind myself how deeply thankful I am for the inclusive communities that I have been able to be held in, particularly Brooklyn Zen Center, and the More Light Presbyterian Church I grew up attending. I continually remind myself that in taking on an ordained or ministerial role in a community, there is a responsibility and an unceasing commitment to be compassionate with others who are not in my immediate community, even those who are causing me harm. I refuse to compartmentalize myself from any human being, just as I refuse to compartmentalize myself.
Miguel Escobar | Director of Anglican Studies
Working for the church as a Latinx gay man, I come face-to-face with hateful individuals and theologies that aim to circumscribe the lives of LGBTQ people. Through this, I’ve come to believe that the most important thing we can offer one another are our unvarnished stories about how we are – or aren’t- making it through. Yet this feels like such a radical and even dangerous act because so much of our safety has depended on keeping secrets. As the Methodist Church reaffirms its commitment to sidelining the lives of its LGBTQ members, I pray that people can find safe places where they can simply be who God made them to be, and that we start sharing stories of how we are making it through.
Shep Glennon | M.Div. Student
Queer ministry means solidarity with my queer peers in more conservative churches and mosques. We must take our cues from the ballroom community, those Black and Latinx folk who are hit hardest by church homophobia as well as racism in the LGBT community.
My ability to have my homosexuality accepted by my family and community is not a luxury which many of my fellow Muslim peers have, so I make it my mission to be the one taking up the issue to our imam and peers where they are afraid to speak up.
Being gay and Christian, I have met with a lot of cognitive dissonance. Back in 2007 I was in a Catholic university, and, despite my reasoning, our clergy could not apply Jesus’ “spirit vs letter of the law” to this situation. Perhaps they could contradict Jesus’ logic but couldn’t contradict official doctrine. And when I had a romance with a man who told me gay marriage was wrong according to his religious upbringing, I saw even us LGBT folks have internalized investments in institutional homophobia. In my therapeutic Recovery from Dominant Culture work, I seek to study and treat the psychological mechanism of cognitive dissonance.
I’ve seen firsthand the death of beautiful potential—how one person can make love to the same gender and feel all the feelings of love that go with it- but, because of their religious upbringing, not admit to themselves they are LGBT and so do not want to date their lover of their same gender. Queer ministry must speak to this and similar forms of loss of something beautiful that could have been. We celebrate like no one else can, but we also need space to weep and rituals to mourn, to process these ghosts which haunt us.
Nehemoyia Young | M.Div. Student
I’m generally suspicious of religious institutions, especially those with banners that proclaim “all are welcome!”. I wonder, what might this welcome mean, what might it feel like? “All” is in the eye of the beholder, do you see me? Will your theology be as open as the banner outside, or will it be quickly straightened and narrowed out? Ministry is queer when it relentlessly interrogates cultural normativities like gender, or marriage. When it centers those voices and expressions pushed to the outermost peripheries. Queer faith is the unshakeable knowing that our bodies are divine and welcomed, not just in your church, but on Earth and in Heaven simultaneously. It is the knowing that we need no one’s permission to get close to God.
Mary Barber, M.D. | M.Div. Student
Coming out as gay was my first call. It was not one big epiphany for me, but a long struggle, with periods of confusion, stumbling, and uncertainty. When I finally came to a place of knowing and accepting myself as a gay person, it was a revelation. Coming out opened me to be able to receive other invitations from God — to marriage, to creating a family, and eventually to hearing a call to be a priest in the Episcopal Church.
I need to bring all my gifts, and all that I am, into my current and future ministry — queer person, wife, mother, physician. Vocation demands nothing less than full honesty and offering our whole selves. I am praying for the day that the Church will embrace the vocations of everyone called to serve, in the fullness of all our identities.
Karmen Smith | M.A. Student
Those of us “who are called by God” understand the power of this divine call. Our call is to ministry, not to be gatekeepers. Our call is “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). That is the call we all share. And like the blind man in John 9 who was blind since birth for God’s glory, we —queer clergy persons are also born this way for the revealing of God’s work in us. We are a test in love that sadly some denominations fail.
To be called is a blessing and to be gay is a gift from God. Sometimes we will be rejected, as Christ was rejected. And in those times, I am encouraged by Psalms 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” I believe that rejection is just divine direction, and God directed my feet to Union Theological Seminary.
UTS validated my call, connected me with an affirming space and the tools to exercise the call, and empowered me to go out and become a cornerstone in my community. Union didn’t ask me “who sinned,” instead Union welcomed me, and together we rejoiced. Because as Paul responded to the Philippians, “What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way…and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 18:1) So I encourage you, when you are rejected, to remember the call, utilize its power, and to continue to proclaim the good news of Christ, both in season and out of season. Go out and become the cornerstones in your communities. For in this way, God is glorified.
Shelby Johnson | M.Div. Student
Queer ministry to me means witnessing the divinity of each person. It means seeking liberation and justice for the whole humanity of an individual and community, especially those most Othered: people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, those with disabilities, women and non-binary folks, immigrants and refugees, people of lower socioeconomic class, the elderly, and particularly those impacted multiply by interlocking systems of oppression.
My personal ministry right now is holding the stories of elderly LGBT people of color and making meaning of lifetimes of grief, joy, loss, anger, struggle, and hope, and in the power of these stories I find loving community and, in turn, God. I am overcome by the radical love these folks have shared with me, and that love is shaping who I am becoming as a queer pastoral caregiver. My queer ministry is fierce love in action.
Keshia Pendigrast | Admissions Processor
People of faith taught me that queer people were a perversion, that their private love was demonic, pornographic and at best, that they would never be sacred. As a child, every time I suspected my truth I would hold my breath with this deep dread- what if I was?
I was luckier than most to have come out surrounded by strong, supportive and deeply loving community of queer women.
Queer people have not simply fought for our own divine right to love and be, but we have fought for the very fabric of humanity: queer people like Bayard Rustin and Pauli Murray were central to the civil rights movement, where would we be without Audre Lorde, Alice Walker or even Billie Holiday?
Queer people have stood up to societal indignities for centuries, because the very act of coming out while acknowledging one’s own dignity illuminates an alternative way of being human.
While our times have certainly progressed, these past two years should tell us that communities of faith in particular are still obsessed with notions of painting queer love as the ultimate abomination, whilst distracting themselves and their congregations from the true hegemonic evils of our time.
I am an openly queer woman who invites and recruits people to journey through seminary—I can only hope that that means something to people who still feel called to serve God and/or humanity, even amidst deep rejection by their own faith communities.
Jake Hearen | M.Div. Student
As a masculine-presenting individual with a cis-woman spouse, I recognize I am not the first image that comes to mind when picturing queer minister. I am fortunate to be from a culture and family that supports and affirms queerness; spirituality in my community cannot exist without the integration of queer persons as People.
But I haven’t lived with my family or culture in over a decade, and—while it should not shock me any longer—I am still aghast at the attitudes directed toward queer persons. Understanding how to navigate my various identities within a context of the greater American society has always been a journey. It never occurred to me until recently that I would have to reexamine the queerness that I thought I understood.
I came to Union after nearly a decade of in the military, and to whence I intend to return as a chaplain when I leave Union. The military lifestyle is precarious in many respects and the attitude toward queerness is no different. For instance, individual units might be accepting and even affirming but Congress and other higher echelons have released statements that are ostracizing and demeaning to the sacrifices and service we commit for ourselves and others. I recognize that I hold vigil for many who have been marginalized but especially for those that identify as queer.
Jess Miller | M.Div. Student
The tangle and winding path that is my hybridity — of self from spiritual identity to my gender and social identity — exists as I live and breathe, enmeshed, enfleshed. Within this complexity I exist as both oppressor and oppressed. I am insider and I am other. I am Christian and I am queer. I am calloused and raw. I am neither male nor female. I exist in between spaces, I am a twilight person seeking bridges and compassion within one’s self and between the self and others. Christianity and those who speak on its behalf have perpetuated harm and violence on the bodies, minds, and spirits of my queer spiritual siblings. Through experience and revelation and prayer and mourning and lament and joy I exist, and I desire to exist for Love, to provide a healing balm to the wounds particular representatives of the faith seem to keep opening up.
It is important that we take seriously the healing of inherited traumas from our families and traditions so that we do not perpetuate harm down our own ancestral lines. I feel Christ’s love in this work, in the rooms of gathered queer folx forming new familial bonds, in the love of self that blossomed from soil previously watered with shame and hidden tears. I desire to see a world where queer people (and all those “othered” by the hegemonic, exclusivist, white, hetero-patriarchal, Christo-centric fetish) are no longer beaten down by defending their humanity and have the time, energy, and resources to flourish.
Hannah Snyder-Samuelson | M.Div. Student
I’m a gay seminarian pursuing ordination in the United Church of Christ.
Coming out was a deeply spiritual process for me. It was a time of looking critically at myself and my relationships, and stripping away the categories and expectations that I had been socialized to fit into. When we clear away our own assumptions about who we can love, what we can wear, and what our roles are in society, what remains is the core of who God is calling us to be. I think this is the work of the church — to interrogate and dismantle the systems of power that constrain our relationships with God, each other, and ourselves, in order to live more fully into the radical, boundary-breaking love that Jesus shows us.
Our LGBTQIA+ ancestors have been doing this faithfully self-reflective work for generations, working in community to make more room at the table, so that more people can be heard and fed and claimed as family. To me, that’s what church should be: recognizing the divine Spirit alive in the people around us, and listening for the ways that that Spirit cuts through the noise of “us versus them” and connects us to something bigger than ourselves.
James Admans | M.Div. Student
I am a queer person of faith seeking ordination in the United Church of Christ. I send love and light to my UMC brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings who are feeling the effects of a recent decision to strengthen homophobic and transphobic restrictions on queer Methodist clergy and people.
I have the privilege of being able to say that my sexuality and gender identity are things that I have always felt balanced with what God envisioned for me. In my experiences, the challenge lies when queer people’s humanity becomes up for debate. Queer people are valid, and this is not debatable.
Prior to attending seminary, I led my home church through the Open and Affirming process, or the conversation towards becoming a welcoming and inclusive congregation. Combined with my Old and New Testament classes, these experiences gave me the opportunity and intellect to engage with clobber passages in sociohistorical context. Despite a few poorly interpreted and translated verses, I often remind myself of some deeply meaningful, theological messages throughout the Bible. For example, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), and we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). Since there is is no male or female in Christ (Galatians 3:28), the Body of Christ is inherently queer and non-binary.
As a queer person of faith, I hold the Bible in the tension of being both sacred and problematic. Part of Jesus’ ministry was engaging with marginalized people and bringing them into community. In my personal theology, Christ is the divine embodiment of love and justice, and I hope to follow that example. I remember that even God came out of the heavenly closet and revealed themself as Jesus Christ.
Kevin Bentley | Manager of Alumni/ae Relations and Individual Giving
One thing that you should know about me is that I am always in church. It has always been that way since I was little. I was raised in the church and it wasn’t as bad an experience as some might think. It was a silent one though. My pastor at my hometown church and congregation never said anything about LGBTQ issues. I thought that meant they were affirming, but silence is just as bad. I am grateful that I had that religious experience, though, because it brought me to a place like Riverside Church. The faith community that I fostered there and the love they have shown me has no words. Now, I know that when I have kids, they too will also have a church to be in all the time.
Carolyn Bratnober ’17 | Public Services Librarian at Burke Library
I am a queer, gender-nonconforming seminary librarian. I’m not in the ministry. But I consider myself an “ally” to people of faith. I believe ministry and study go hand in hand, and I see the work of ministry as liberatory—that is, I see the social dimensions of faith organizations as salvific from worldly injustice. That is why I am mystified and outraged by faiths that promote exclusionary theologies. Faith organizations should uplift those who are most in need of refuge, and transcend worldly boundaries with love and understanding. Yet lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer children and youth continue to be cast out of their houses of worship, and leadership roles are forbidden to them, undermining their dignity and full humanity.
Yet I see hope in the library, in study, and in teaching the curious who seek different perspectives from their own. I believe reading and writing can be acts of worship. Whole lifetimes can be devoted to faith seeking understanding. (Making one’s way through the beautiful studies, stories, and poetry by LGBTQ writers at my library alone would take ages!) I believe that centering the voices of the marginalized can be transformative; I believe that, in time, hatred in our culture can be transformed, strictures against LGBTQ persons can be eased. It will take time and work for my colleagues in seminary and religious leaders to undo millennia of hatred and fear. In my role as a seminary librarian, curator, and teacher, I seek to provide an avenue for those who do the work of theology, for seekers to explore and participate in the dynamic dialogue that forms the creation of knowledge and the furtherance of justice. This is my work as a queer person. It is an act of love.
Erin Hancock | M.Div. Student
Ministry, to me, is a fundamentally queer calling. We live in a society that is structured around violent systems of oppression – white supremacy, heterosexism, patriarchy, cisgenderism, and ableism, just to name a few – and we can not adequately care for one another without confronting these systems. My own queer identity forces me to confront these systems by challenging the expectations around gender and sexuality that are imposed on me daily. My calling to ministry forces me to confront these systems on behalf of those to whom I will be ministering, many of whom will be queer. Queerness, though, is about more than just sexual orientation or gender identity. Queerness is about refusing to conform to society’s narrow definition of what constitutes an acceptable relationship. Queerness is about resisting power structures that aim to control our bodies and what we do with them. Queerness, ultimately, is about choosing to love in ways that challenge the status quo.
The way I understand it, this is also the task of ministry. As people called to ministry, we must be willing to call out that which does not affirm the multitude of ways in which people choose to love one another and themselves. We must call out so that we – as a society – can come out… of the racist, heteronormative, cisnormative, patriarchal closet that is preventing us from being able to love one another well. Ministry must be queer, because in order to responsibly care for one another, we have to be willing to resist the structures of power that are harming us all, particularly queer people.
Eric Brown | M.Div. Student
In October 1968, near the end of his life, Thomas Merton concluded a talk to a gathering of monks in Calcutta: “My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” Queer faith is a spiritual gift to be lifted-up and nourished. Queer ministry is inspired to action, to community, to inclusiveness, and to dignity and grace—and always, always toward boundless love.
Allison Connelly | M.Div. Student
I came out as a queer woman in February of 2017. I had just fallen in love, deeply and dramatically, with a woman I could no longer pretend was only a friend. Although I had never been in love with a woman before– at least, not consciously – I could not ignore the strength of my desires to kiss this woman, to hold her, and to care for her. And yet, two weeks after I started dating this woman, I almost broke up with her. Because while the experience of falling in love was ecstatic and beautiful, the experience of coming out – and the knowledge that I would have to come out again, and again, and again, for my entire life – was painful and overwhelming. As I came out I experienced rejection from many Christians who told me that my sexuality was not holy, was not welcomed in the church, and that its validity – my validity– was up for debate. I questioned my place in the church. I anticipated ecclesial rejection, theological condemnation, and, honestly, professional instability. Was being queer– and being out – and being in love – really worth it?
My answer, after honest and valuable discernment with my community, was yes. Yes to love, yes to sexuality, yes to openness, yes to a constant, inconvenient, glittery, political celebration of my sexuality and the sexualities and genders of all created people. My partner and I are still together; we live in a tiny studio apartment in New York where I go to seminary and she works for radical nuns. I am an out queer woman with roots and shoots in the Catholic Church and the United Church of Christ, and one day I will be ordained, and I will stand proudly in front of Christian communities, proclaiming the deep, holy, and necessary sacredness of bodies like mine.
Hannah Gallo ’18
One of the most profound privileges in my life was being born a Unitarian Universalist because it meant for me, when I decided to pursue my call to ministry, my queerness was the furthest thing from my mind. I was much more preoccupied with paying for seminary than figuring out how to navigate a church which didn’t accept my full self. And this is not to say I haven’t experienced homophobia and misogyny in my role as a queer minister, but the fact that my denomination’s public stance and theology is one that embraces, celebrates, and validates the love between me and my partner makes it easier to bear. Whereas I might have to expend enormous energy loving on myself, celebrating my queer self, in order to better withstand the tides of queer-phobic oppression from my church, I can spend that energy on my congregants and on fighting for justice.
And that fight for justice? It’s to ensure that others have that sense of entitlement to the pulpit, that sense of joy at pursuing their call, that feeling that being queer is a blessing. Because you know what–it is.
I don’t identify as having been “born gay”—I chose it. And I wouldn’t change my choice. It was my holy and sacred choice to make about how best to live a life that fulfilled me. To those of you who feel their relationship to God, to the Divine, to the Sacred, is jeopardized by being queer, I’m here to tell you it is not. It is there to sustain you, to hold you, and to love you into being.
Alyssa Kaplan | M.Div. Student
As the newly baptized is bathed in water and anointed in oil, the Pastor reminds that person that every single part of them is claimed and loved by God. Every part of their being is sent out into the world, called to love God and neighbor.
I spend a lot of time thinking about baptism, as a candidate for ministry and as a queer person of faith. I marvel at the liberating power of God’s grace, which calls each of us to live boldly, freely, and authentically in the world, as vessels of God’s creative and redemptive love. Coming out as a queer woman has empowered me to live my baptism more fully. My baptism empowers me to live my truth as a queer Christian more fully.
Our baptismal liturgy first calls us to renounce the forces of evil in our world. I renounce the powers of evil that infect the church with hateful anti-queer and anti-trans polity. I renounce the sinful lies that claim these policies are biblical, theologically sound, and even loving. I renounce the powers of fear and shame that for far too long kept me from loving my whole self and living boldly and authentically in the world and the church. I renounce the powers of evil that kept me from fully living out my baptism. I renounce the powers of sin which tell any beloved child of God that they are not worthy, just as they are, of God’s unspeakable love for them.
Every day I remember my baptism. I rise to new life as the person God calls me to be—a faithfully queer, beloved Child of God.