Sisters and Brothers,
I want to start by thanking those of you who have supported me but also, and especially, supported Pam, Finn, and Grace in the last several weeks. Although I wasn’t able to be here on the day that Pam addressed the congregation, she shared with me how much the support she’s received has meant to her. When she told me about it that afternoon, I cried tears of joy. This is what a church is supposed to be. Church should be a place in which people don’t have to check parts of themselves at the door in order to be accepted.
I wasn’t in church that Sunday because I was in the Twin Cities for a continuing education event. My Sunday morning was free, though, so I googled the nearest UCC church and ended up attending services in a wonderful congregation called Cherokee Park United Church. It happened to be a potluck day, but they welcomed me even though I didn’t bring anything.
During lunch, I was able to visit with a number of the church’s members, including an openly gay man named Tommy. We talked about the Cherokee Park UCC and, of course, when I told them that I was also a pastor, we talked about the Custer Community Church. As we were talking, Tommy asked a poignant question – “Does your church have a rainbow flag displayed somewhere out front?”
What Tommy was really asking me was, “As an openly gay man, if I walked by your church, would I know that I was welcome inside, or would I have to guess? If I walked into your church, would I know that I was safe, or would I be taking a risk?”
Sisters and brothers, the truth is that I was not 100% sure that Pam would be welcomed here, would be safe here, once she came out. I was pretty sure. I told our therapist that I expected the church would embrace her. I told our conference ministry staff that I expected the church would handle this well. But part of me was worried. I wasn’t certain. And neither was Pam.
And, to be fair, not everyone has been supportive. A few people have decided that they cannot continue being in relationship with our church simply because one of our members is gay (she’s actually always been gay). I’m heartbroken that some people’s love can evaporate so quickly over so small a thing.
Nevertheless, we hope that this continues to be a safe space for Pam – and for all of us.
We’ve been talking-the-talk of unconditional welcome, acceptance, and love for a long time. I hope that we can walk-the-walk.
Rev. Dustin Bartlett