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Not fitting in at school. Geeking out on a love for church. Seeing a school poster laughably tell me to be different. All of this contributed to a young life humming in stress.
The fact that my most consistent place of comfort was our little church in Rochester, the First Reformed Church, is a bit of a miracle. It wasn’t a hippy dippy, liberal kind of place. It was pretty typical. We did the usual churchy things.
At this point in my life, I wasn’t sure if I was queer or not, but I was sure of one thing: I did not want to be queer. I could be a tomboy, I could be awkward, I could be quirky, I could be gender messy, but I could not be gay.
My desperation to not be gay didn’t originate in church, but came from a totally unexpected place. When I was little, I would wake up early on Sunday mornings. My parents, in the continual quest of all parents, just wanted to sleep, so they let me watch TV—but only religious programs like Davey and Goliath and Bible Quiz. But then I happened to watch The 700 Club, which was unusually effective at teaching me, and anyone else watching, that if we were queer it would not end well for us, or for the church, or for all of America.
Even in my awkwardness and non-conformity, the Rochester congregation loved me just the way I was. They probably didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the real me, but they saw someone different, and they helped me on the path to being myself, being authentic. Their love helped me survive the terrible teens. And while I was afraid they might catch on to my being gay (and thus bring the downfall of America), I also realized that they were the ones who helped me learn about God and Jesus and hospitality and love.
What I learned at that church gave me a God Code, an anchor. I knew that whatever my life looked like, moving forward, I was loved, authentically: cookie list, tomboy, baseball player. I learned authenticity despite working so hard to avoid that rooster poster. It was that value that led to a later move to New York City, to my abandoning a lucrative Wall Street career, and to entering seminary after 9/11. Authenticity was the anchor that held me as I learned who I was and how to begin walking that out.
During the Sundays of Lent, we will be running excerpts from Ann Kansfield’s Be the Brave One.
Reprinted with permission from Be the Brave One: Living Your Spiritual Values Out Loud and Other Life Lessons by Ann Kansfield copyright © 2021 Broadleaf Books.
Thank you from a mother who has done an about face toward her gay daughter.
A blessing and a treat, every time. Thank you for so beautifully sharing your life and faith. It’s painful and lovely all at once. So much humility and grace, and tender humor too. Spiritual Light and Peace. Thank you!
Authenticity, indeed! Beautifully expressed! May your experiences at your church in Rochester be a foretaste of things to come in churches all.