Elizabeth’s mother, Dot, turned 80 Sunday, and though we celebrated with the broader Campi clan on Long Island this summer, we flew to Phoenix last week to engage in part two of this milestone on the actual day. As always, Dot wanted us to attend church with her and to sit on the front row, making sure the pastor knew that she wanted time to introduce us to the congregation. Though I’ve tried to explain the risk she’s taking with this, basically outing me in a United Methodist Church where anyone who felt the need to uphold the UMC’s prohibition against ordaining gay and lesbian persons could push the issue and send me to trial, I’m not sure she really gets it. When she introduces us, we all smile graciously, but I also harbor a mix of pride and bemusement. This time, I asked her again if she cared what people thought, and the octogenarian adamantly replied, “I don’t give a shit. Excuse my French.” But caring what people think and understanding the risk are two different things.
I have no issue with the risk she’s taking; I’m out by my own hand in publication (this blog post being just another example.) But I do think that many of our allies have a tendency to overlook, or just not be aware, of what it means to be gay clergy in the United Methodist Church. Still, I think this is the only way forward. Acknowledging the risk, even in a small way, only gives this unjust rule power, and I would hope we would all choose not to bow to it. And gently educating our congregations about this injustice within our denomination is also incumbent on all of us. I’m reminded of two quotes: one by Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and the other the title of one of my favorite books, “This bridge called my back.”
Dot’s church is a relatively new church, started to be a United Methodist presence north of Phoenix, basically out in the country but where population expansion looked immanent. After eight or so years, the church is still struggling, and that very afternoon the congregation was voting on whether or not the church would close. In the children’s sermon, the pastor named veterans as heroes and suggested that the children might one day also have a chance to serve in the armed forces and be a hero, (Dot, herself as patriotic as they come, a member of the GI generation and the mother of a Navy vet, whispered, “I hope not!”) and then the leader of the group of recovering drug addicts who were present in worship to give testimony said, in explaining his program, “We teach Jesus Christ above all others, not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Allah, or whatever they say” and I put my head in my hands and almost left.
But then the young men who were there sang, and shared their stories of recovery, and I was moved, and inspired, and humbled. When I talked to one of the guests after the service, I cried, at his strength, his perserverance, his faith, his embrace of life after death.
And this is how it is with the church. So broken, yet so full of promise. So human, yet our chance to see God. So ailing, yet a path to true healing. I do not know the outcome of the vote later that afternoon, but I do know that God will continue to move in our midst, finding ways, as we risk and as we fall, to help us soar and heal.