This story was told as part of opening worship at the Sacred Story Q Camp on February 28, 2020 at Camp Colby Retreat Center.
Hi Friends, my name is Bailey, and I am a pastor. And if it were it up to my church, the United Methodist Church as a whole, I would not be allowed. As a queer person, I am here today because I believe that an institution, that people with power, that mostly old white men, do not get to determine who is called to serve. I want to share my story with you all tonight, not because it’s anything new, anything you’ve never heard before, but because my story, and all of your stories, are sacred.
This weekend, we hope that together, we find new ways, old ways, important ways to tell our stories, both our individual stories, and our collective story, as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. We hope you find authentic ways to share your story, through song, through art, through relationships.
So my story, it revolves around my call, my call to being a pastor. As I share my story, my hope is that you think about the ways your story has been shaped, and is being shaped.
I find my deepest sense of purpose in the ways I am challenged and in the risks I take. And I’m just going to name right now that I’m a cis white woman, to cover my bases. So obviously, my risk and yours may be relative. Take that how you will.
So as I was thinking about where to start, I thought a common grounding would be good. And in a group of queer people, I can’t think of a better common ground than coming out.
You might imagine the most terrifying experience in my life as a queer Christian was my coming out experience, the moments where I share a part of myself with people who often don’t need to know about my sexuality, and sometimes don’t even deserve that part of my story to be shared with them. But the most terrifying experience in my life has less to do with my queerness and more to do with being a Christian, and one who is called to be a pastor, at that.
When I was in college, I was studying to be a teacher, a public-school teacher, where they literally can’t talk about God. Very ironic, looking back. One summer, I took an internship at my home church in Alaska. I would spend my summer doing Vacation Bible School and teaching kids and leading youth group, or so I thought. One day, my pastor came into my office space, told me she would be gone on Sunday evening, and she asked me if I’d preach. Now, ask is a stretch for what she did, because I knew, going to church my whole life, that I couldn’t really say no to a pastor when they asked for your help. So reluctantly, I told her “well if you think I’m ready, I guess I can…”.
I’ll be super honest with you. I had zero interest. I tried to get sick so I could get out of it, and when that didn’t work, my body took over the day of and profusely shook, as if me being nervous wasn’t obvious enough. Finally, it was time to preach. I stood up, made my way to the front, and eyes glued to my manuscript, I started to speak. If you’ve ever had an ‘aha’ kind of moment, this was it for me. I knew at that moment that my call to ministry would stretch me and grow me in this same kind of way for the rest of my life. I learned to love that part of my call, and I’m still learning to love being a pastor.
After that summer, I went back to school, back to the conservative campus ministry I had been a part of. I was excited to tell them the good news, that I was going to be a pastor, a woman pastor. I told a few close friends, and the director. He asked me to preach almost immediately. I was honored, excited, and prepared hard to do a good job. I got there early that night, practiced, and waited for my friends to arrive. Nobody did.
I learned from that experience, that my call would be full of risk, and it would mean losing relationships in order to build ones that affirm me and affirm the ones I get to serve.
Last year, I served two rural churches in Alaska. While I was there, I wasn’t out, but I was pastoring during the big General Conference, where they voted that queer people could not be married in the UMC or ordained. Again, I learned that my role in the church wasn’t to integrate into the church, but to stand out. And so, I spoke up in the ways that I could, the ways that were safe.
I got to be on my favorite podcast, Queerology, where I talked about being asexual and queer for the first time publicly. I was equally terrified and incredibly proud of the risk I took. I sent my parents the link, my version of coming out to them, and I shared it online in some spaces. But my congregation still had no idea. I started to lean in to my call to digital spaces for ministry, and about the integration of online community and in-person communities. My platform started to grow in important ways.
At the same time as I was exploring being queer in the world of ministry, my denomination was still debating my humanity, our humanity. Over the span of a week, I had gone from cynical, to maybe hopeful, to completely disappointed, but never surprised. At the same time as the UMC passed that plan that said I wasn’t good enough to be a pastor, I found myself thriving in my ministry, learning to love the call even more, and falling deeper in love with people that the church, my church viewed as ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’.
Another queer pastor in our area told me that she was tired of coming out. She has had to navigate the conversations I’m sure many of y’all navigate often for years. And she didn’t want to do it anymore. For me, I almost see it the opposite, in that I’m so excited to be out, not because I want to debate my humanity or get asked all these queer Christian questions people like to ask us. Rather, I am in a position of privilege, because people have to see me.
I am a clergyperson, a senior pastor, and for those reasons, people look. And while they’re looking, I’m also going to make them see me, the queer clergywoman as well.
Sharing our story, it’s a privilege, and it is sacred. Whether you call it God, Spirit, Creator, that thing that is bigger than yourself, that is where your story lives. This weekend, we invite you to lean in to your story, knowing that it is sacred, holy, yours.
If I have anything to encourage you with from my story, it’s this:
- You are beloved and good and holy.
- You are a child of God, no matter what the church says, or anyone else for that matter.
- You can be called to something that isn’t ready for you yet, and you’re still allowed to take up space there, because your humanity is not up for debate in God’s eyes.
As a pastor, I recognize the ways that my story affects other stories, maybe your story. I have been a product of people who claim to love me, who claim to have my best interest at heart, people who wear a collar or a stole, people who call themselves pastors, who are ordained, who work in the church. And so I recognize that there is power in my story, power that we as pastors and leaders hold, to tell a different story than the one many of us have been told, stories that cause hurt and trauma.
So to close today, I need you to know a few things that I believe with my whole heart, things pastors should have been telling you since day one.
- Your body is sacred.
- You are known by God and loved by God.
- Your sexuality is a gift.
- Your family are the ones who love you and care for you without question.
- You know your own story.
- God is not a boy’s name.
- Those who abuse you or tell you that you are anything less than beloved are not worth your time, energy, or gifts, even, and especially, if they are religious leaders.
- The church is not the only place you can experience God. And further than that, the church is often the place where the most harm is done in the name of God.
- No matter what the church says, what people say, what policies and pronouncements say, you are a beloved child of God.
- Your story is sacred.