Discovering who I am through Unitarian Universalism

I gave this sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem on April 24, 2016. The text is below as well as a recording of the sermon itself (which includes a bit of ad libbing).  I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to their Fellowship.

Lesbians, Softball, and the Church Board

A few months ago Rev. Lisa saw my post on facebook about a recent sermon I gave at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro. I said that I have given several sermons over the years so at this point I see the Order of service as I do a recipe, merely guidance not an absolute and so for that particular service I changed things around a bit. Well, I think that piqued her interest because she messaged me and said, “Hey, why don’t you come speak at UUFWS?” Not being one to turn down an opportunity to speak, I said, sure. When we talked through the stage I’m in regarding seminary, sermons I’ve given in the past, etc, I remembered something I had held way back in the outer reaches of my memory: Ya’ll are actually part of my process of becoming a Unitarian Universalist. So we talked it over and the title of my sermon became, “Lesbians, Softball and the Church Board.” While yes, this is a provocative title, all of these items really do tie together. Hold on and you’ll see.

I moved to Greensboro, NC from Columbia, MO in 2004 to follow a relationship. Of course, like all relationships, I thought this was “the one.” It turned out not to be true. I moved out, worked several jobs, and realized I needed community. If I was going to survive living here, I needed to have other like minded people in my life.

When I moved to Nc, I began attending a church that was in the same denomination as the one I attended in MO. I went to that church but this particular one didn’t fit quite right. Do you ever know the feeling of sliding on an old jacket, thinking, yes, this is me- only to discover that the shoulders are either too loose or too tight? You wear it for a while but realize it doesn’t fit who you are at this point in your life. So you decide to let it go.

That’s what it was like for me. The people were good, I still have their spiritual beliefs guiding me, but I decided I wanted and needed something more. I needed people who were coming together on Sunday morning, yes, but also taking their beliefs out into the world to make it a better place for everyone. I decided to give the Unitarian Universalist church another try (I had tried it for short stint once before when I lived in MO). Much like Cheryl Walker’s story last week, my being welcomed in – and staying in – were about the people. I came to a women’s gypsy tea on a Saturday and a woman there, Janet, said to me “Come back tomorrow and I’ll introduce you to people.” The next morning I was a little nervous but I knew this little Scottish woman was waiting for me and I knew she would welcome me in. The rest is history.

Within a year of beginning to attend church at UUCG, I served on the Music Team, realized that wasn’t my thing but choir is. It’s been a glorious experience to open my heart and expand my musical abilities with others. In addition, along the way someone asked me if I would teach a children’s religious education class. Now friends, this required a lot of grappling with the faith of my childhood. There were modules where we talked about Bible stories. As someone who has been bashed by family members because of their particular religious beliefs, I have a complicated relationship with the Bible, as do some of you, I’m sure.

When I came out as a lesbian, I went through a long soul searching, what some people call a dark night of the soul. Eventually I decided to do my own research to find out what the Bible actually says about homosexuality. I needed to find out for myself. When I came to find out it didn’t say what I had always been told, I decided that the rest of the Bible could be examined also. I came to believe I could not take the Bible literally. That was both freeing and terrifying.

So in children’s RE, this time in learning about the Bible, I got to learn the larger metaphysical stories behind the stories. This time I got to learn about UUs, both past and present, who made a difference in the world as a way of living their faith. I got to juxtapose the two and find truth and meaning in both.

And so at the same time as teaching RE, and singing in the choir, I began playing softball in a coed, glbt league that plays in Winston-Salem called the Triad Softball League.

Now friends, I know then, and probably still don’t know, one single solitary thing about softball. I do not fit man of the stereotypes of lesbians, the biggest of which is being someone who plays or cares about sports.

However, I was new to the area and, as I mentioned earlier, in need of community. But not just any community. I wanted a glbtq community of people who weren’t making assumptions that I was straight, believe me that gets old fast. In MO, I was part of several glbt groups and I really missed that.

So, having no idea that there were different kind of gloves for catching a ball, or that there were specialized shoes, I decided why not? How hard could it be, right?

You can imagine that this had disaster written all over it. Thankfully, however, the people in the league are patient and kind. Several of them took me under their wing and explained the nuances of timing, both in swinging the bat and in catching the ball in left field, which was where I played defense most often. There would be Sunday afternoons when I’d get the ball thrown at my face or I’d fall while running and think to myself, “There must be a better way to make friends.”

One of the friends I made is a member of this Fellowship, Ellen. She was incredibly patient with my softball ignorance. In addition, we began an email correspondence where we talked about what I call “life’s big questions.” One of the things we talked about was UUism. She talked about how her faith impacts her life and her work as an attorney, then mediatior.

This was my first in-depth conversation with someone about what they believe and they they’re a UU. At my church I felt welcome and safe, but as I’m sure many of you can attest, there isn’t always time to have these kinds of conversations.

Soon at my church I was asked to wear another hat, that of board trustee, which was a three year term. Eventually wearing three hats at my church and two hats in softball – I agreed to serve on the board there and be a manger of a team – began to wear thin. As much as I enjoyed the various things I was involved with, too many times I was making hard choices: do I go my minister’s wedding or do I go to the opening day of the season? I chose opening day. Do I go to a choir member’s celebration of life service or do I go to game, knowing this means the team might be short handed? I decided to go to the celebration of life service.

As my life became more and more centered in Greensboro, I stopped playing softball. Ellen and I also stopped with the long emails, again, who has the time for those kind of in-depth conversations? I know at this time in my life I don’t.

When Rev. Lisa asked me if I would like to come speak here, I remembered those conversations. They came back to me as a reminder that they were foundational to my understanding of Unitarian Universalism.

When this memory came back, I particularly wanted to talk about that here because I want you to know that how you live matters, how you interact with other people, and being able to talk about your UU faith matters. More than you will ever know.

When Rev. Lisa and I talked about the title and she threw in the word “lesbian” at first I laughed nervously because in my regular life I don’t really think about being a lesbian most of the time. It’s like living an identity that there is the potential to be discriminated against at any time just for living and at the same time I really do have a non-threatening life. Most of the time it’s quite boring.

But then I remembered – see what memory does? – one of the reasons I left the church I attended when I moved here. That church was more than happy to do same sex wedding ceremonies but they refused to get involved in political issues. The church here in particular wasn’t involved in local issues at all. It was one of the reasons I decided I needed a change.

Here’s how I look at it: when the mud starts slinging at me – and it has and will again – I need to know that you’re on my side. It’s not enough to say, “I support you.” If you’re truly my friend and ally you have to be willing to stand in the trenches with me and get mud slung on you as well. It is incredibly humbling to know that UUs around the country are standing on our side, for example, regarding House Bill 2. I know that UUs are quite literally standing in my corner. I have so many stories about this which is a whole sermon in itself. Never, ever underestimate the importance of standing with others who are being marginalized even when you’re not.

UUism sees the connection between our faith and our daily lives. We believe that everything is connected. We believe that where you worship on Sunday morning isn’t nearly as important as how you live your life.

Nowhere was this more evident than my position on the church board. After I completed my three year term as a board trustee, I took one year off, then was asked to come back as Vice President. This meant on taking quite a bit more responsibility so I let go of teaching RE and focused in on governance work. Now I know, this doesn’t sound very exciting. I have come to believe, however, that governance is foundational to who we are as UUs. A bit of reading about our history tells you that our govenance defines who we are as a denomination.

I began to move from someone who was filling a leadership role to someone who began to view everything through the lens of UUism and what is best for UUCG. I became more and more aware of having and practicing having a non-anxious presence while also knowing that that doesn’t mean being passive. I learned that my particular skills set fit exactly what was needed at UUCG at the time.

By the end of my second year as Vice President, I was feeling the call to ministry. At the same time I got a literal ask to be board president (at my church President doesn’t automatically follow being VP). My wife Michelle and I weighed both options. We thought long and hard about our lives at the time, thought about the church, and decided the best thing to do was to wait while serving as board president for two years.

That decision was absolutely the right one. There are certain lessons that can only be learned while getting your feet held to the fire. I cannot begin to summarize being board president in a couple of sentences, I’m sure it is something I will continue to learn from for years to come. What I can say is that my experience as president has informed the specific type of ministry I want to do: interim and developmental. My church has experienced several transitions within the last five years. I have come to understand that my skill set andd personal qualities are suited to this type of ministry at this time in my life. Truly, all my life I have felt called to ministry but never knew what that would look like. Experiencing transitional ministry myself helped me see myself in UU ministry in a way I would never have otherwise.

Leadership is service. That is really and truly what it is. Leadership is service. My mantra is, “It’s not about me.” When something is going on and I’m having a response, I ask myself, “am I making this about me? What is going on for me in this situation?” I am absolutely certain that leadership is spiritual practice you cannot get anywhere else.

And so, my friends, Michelle and I began the stepping off into the unknown last fall when I visited Union Theological Seminary. It continued when I applied, was accepted, we informed people in our lives, and we put our house on the market – and it sold in two days while we had no idea where we would be living next. All of the pieces are falling in place for us to turn our car north on August 25. It feels humbling to feel all of the pieces of my life coming together in this one direction. This combination of knowing – and not knowing – at the same time is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Friends, yes, I am called to ministry, but so are you. All of you. I have come to see our daily interactions with clerks, other drivers, and just ordinary events to be ministry. Not all of us will go to seminary and put our houses on the market, but we can all serve, wherever we are. That. Is. Ministry. I encourage you to think of the places in your life that are calling to you and I ask you to be willing to stand in the not knowing, willing to move forward with courage.

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