Friday, March 28, 2008

Would you let me...?

Life at My Church

In 2003, the United Church of Christ formally welcomed transgenders into the life and ministry of the denomination. While each congregation in the UCC is autonomous - meaning this resolution carries no mandate to all UCC churches - my church as embraced not only the letter, but the spirit, of this resolution.

I wrote earlier about that day, August 21, 2005 that I first entered the sanctuary in a quest to seek God's care for my recently passed mother. On that day, I became the first openly transgender to attend service at Country Club. What happened after that day has been a very remarkable spiritual journey for me, one that continues to this day.

So what has happened? Anyone can open their doors and have someone sit in the pews during a Sunday service then leave, perhaps with a smile and a handshake from the minister. It takes a little "more" to do "more" however. And I've been incorporated into much "more" at my church than I could have ever imagined.

It started that November, when I was asked to share my story with the entire congregation during our annual Open and Affirming service. When I got to the point where I mentioned my father excluded me from my mother's funeral, the collective gasp of the people could have cleared out the oxygen for the entire neighborhood. But asking me to tell that story was also easy, especially since this was a time set aside specifically to hear and honor our LGB and T members. And I was honored when I was included in the OnA service the next year as well, providing a one-year "update" that was both poignant and purposeful.

But that's not all. Not even close.

Would you let me teach Sunday School? At our church, this is a shared effort organized by our Youth Coordinator. I have long enjoyed being with kids, I taught at a high school for many years, I coached girls softball for nearly as long and I felt that I would probably never have that contact again - too many people make assumptions about transgenders. I came upon my first Mother's Day following my mom's passing with a fair amount of emotion. At the Mother's Day service, each woman is given a flower. I was given one too, but it did feel odd to me. A month later came Father's Day. While I had been working on repairing my relationship with my own father, there was still a cloud or two of anger there. And at the other end, one way my daughters have reconciled my situation is that they don't consider me their "father" any more. As such, I don't get a Father's Day card or call.

These back to back episodes made me want to connect with kids again, so I found our Youth Coordinator, Stacey, and asked if I could help out. My initial thought was more to be a helping hand with the younger ones. We have three groups, the teens, the elementary school ages and the young ones. Stacey replied "Great! How about teaching Sunday School next week?!?!?". What!?! Me teach Sunday School? I gulped and said "Sure!". Would you let me teach Sunday School?

Before our current minister arrived this past December, the task of providing the Children's Sermon was also a shared responsibility of the members. The minister would to it once a month, the rest of the congregation chipped in the other weeks. I was asked to do this, too. Twice! Would you let me provide the Children's Sermon at your church?

Would you let me serve Communion? This past Maundy Thursday - the day of reflection on the Last Supper and the pending arrest and crucifixion of Jesus - I was sincerely honored when our pastor sent me a note inviting me to join him in serving Communion at our Maundy Thursday service. This just isn't "any" Communion. The plan was to provide the bread and cup through "intincture". Reverand Scott would break the bread and give a piece to each person "The Bread of Life", and I would hold the cup for them to dip the bread into then partake "The Cup of Salvation". Would you let me provide Communion? On Maundy Thursday?

I have been asked to serve on the Evangelism Board, the Care and Nurture Board and the Board of Trustees. I will serve someday for sure. It is a little embarrassing that I've had to demur for now. And some have suggested I should sing with the choir. That will take a little more courage - not to mention the time - on my part to do...someday. Would you let me sing in the choir? As a baritone?

At our annual Christmas bazaar called Kristkindlmart - a German themed event with music and arts and crafts and food and a special project for kids - I offered my help "anywhere you need it". Imagine my surprise when I was assigned to helping the children make and decorate their gingerbread houses (little constructions of graham crackers onto small milk cartons). I loved watching the intense faces of the little ones making the most beautiful creations! Would you let me be with the children of the community for something like this?

At that same first Kristkindlmart, I was then transferred to another assignment where help was desperately needed, selling our home-baked cookies. Now just what, I ask you, is more "normal" for a middle-aged woman of faith than selling homemade cookies at the Christmas bazaar? Would you let me sell cookies?

It's not all glamor. I've also been "allowed" to chop pounds and pounds of onions, haul and clean refrigerators, set tables, make gooey icing, tape plastic tarps to the carpeting in the youth area and last year clear off several inches of snow from the roof of the badly sagging outdoor tent where the food and music is housed. Would you let me up on that ladder with a long handled broom?

I have been an usher. I have handled the sound system for the Sunday service. I have helped out in the office. I have helped unload the new pastor's moving van. Would you let me do these things? Would you even let me in the door?

This is Life at my church. As it should be for All. Isn't that the Promise?

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