According to the introduction to the booklet entitled Listen to Their Hope: Hear Their Faith:
The Joint Synod Committee for Inclusivity is a Committee of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul-Area Synods that has been helping to extend the Church’s welcome for over twenty years. Trusting the reconciling grace of Christ, who has overcome all divisions, we provide support and opportunities for growth in faith and understanding to persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities, their families and friends, and to the Church and its members. Programs have included Caring Family and Friends, Walking the Talk of Welcome, a workshop on “What Is God Doing with Marriage? ” and annual scholarships. We are pleased to publish these stories of what God is already doing in our midst through the lives of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) people.
As the ELCA moves toward a potentially historic Church Wide Assembly beginning August 17th in which issues of gay marriage and gay clergy will be considered, this blog will offer one faith story per day from the booklet. The stories are written by Kari Aanestad, a seminarian at Luther Seminary in St Paul.
This is also an opportunity for you, the reader, to offer your faith story by adding a comment.
Listen now, to the story of Cindy and Bev:
Cindy answered the door wearing an oversized sweatshirt and blue gym shorts. Her right knee sported a bandage from an injury sustained during a game of balloon volleyball with her 6½-year-old son, Josh. Her partner, Bev, bounded up the stairs skipping every other step, as if to run away from the business proposals she was editing in the basement. She shook my hand, picked up Josh by the waist, and the two returned downstairs. Cindy and I sat on the overstuffed, tan leather sectional in the living room.
At five months of age Cindy was adopted through Lutheran Social Services. Her two loving parents raised her in a Minneapolis suburb and attended their Lutheran church regularly. Cindy, Bev and Josh attend that same church to this day. According to Cindy, she got married when she was too young, and the marriage didn’t last for long. She had a difficult time understanding what she wanted to do and who she was. In her free time she enjoyed sports and has been involved in various athletic activities her entire life. To fuel her athleticism, Cindy joined a local softball team
where years later she met her partner of 15 years, Bev.
“Fifteen years give or take a few days,” Bev shouted from the basement.
“I remember the first time I realized that I had feelings for a woman,” Cindy said. “She was a friend, and I realized it one night when we were all out dancing. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized how comfortable I felt in that environment and how strong my feelings were for that type of a relationship. I was confused and had this questioning feeling of: Who am I? ”
The circumstances in which Cindy came out to her parents were not what she had planned. Some twenty years ago her cousin hosted a Christmas party. At the end of the party, her cousin accused Cindy in front of everyone of being involved with her boyfriend earlier in the night. Cindy was shocked. Her cousin refused to believe Cindy’s innocence and proceeded to tell all of the extended family. When Cindy finally decided to “come out” she knew she had to tell her mother the full truth and felt she needed to do it right away. Her mother came to have lunch with Cindy at work.
“I was so nervous and I only had a 30-minute lunch. Right after we sat down at a table, a friend of ours came over and proceeded to tell us every detail of the doctor’s appointment she’d just had.
I watched the minutes tick by.” With two minutes left in their lunch, Cindy finally got to tell her mom, “I don’t do boyfriends. I’m a lesbian.”
After being together for over 10 years, Cindy and Bev decided to adopt a child from Russia. They weren’t able to go through Lutheran Social Services or a Catholic organization because the two agencies do not facilitate adoptions for same-gender couples.
“It’s so important to have an agency that supports our relationship, because adopting is such
a life-changing process,” Cindy said. “You really need that systemic support.”
When their son Josh successfully arrived in the States, he was immediately welcomed into Cindy and Bev’s church. Josh was baptized, and soon after, a group of women held a book shower for the new family where Josh received many new books. Josh is currently a kindergartener at a local public school and spent four years at the Early Childhood Center at their church. The director and all the staff of the center were very supportive and Josh thrived there.
Cindy and Bev were able to be open with their life style and the other families were accepting. One day when Cindy picked up Josh from school, some of the children crowded around her and asked who she was. She told them she was Josh’s mom, to which the children responded,
“You can’t be. Josh already has a mom — Bev.”
Cindy said to them, “Well, some kids have a mom and a dad, others have two moms, others have two dads, and some kids have only one parent.”
According to Cindy, the kids thought about it for two seconds, shrugged, then kept on playing. “It didn’t even faze them.”
Josh, upon hearing his name, came running up the stairs, jumped over the back of the couch. His body fell limp onto Cindy’s lap. They begin speaking a secret language of gurgling sounds and giggles.
“Did you tell your friend that you have two mommies yesterday?” Cindy asked Josh.
Josh dove into a pile of pillows next to her, peeked his head out and said, “Uh-huh.”
“What did your friend think of that?”
“Our church never became a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) church,” Cindy said, “but Bev and I are very out at the church and I feel like we have good support there now. We believe Bev’s election as current treasurer for the congregation symbolizes a majority of support. However, sometimes I wonder if our church is really accepting, or if we are simply supporting a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture.” I can’t believe that after spending all of my life in this church — being both baptized and confirmed here — that I’m asking you at this point to accept me as a child of God.
Cindy’s questioning of her church’s openness has legitimate roots. Many years ago the congregation started to discuss becoming an RIC church. A handful of members were so upset that the church was even considering writing a statement of welcome that they left to attend a more conservative Lutheran megachurch in a neighboring suburb.
“I understand people’s fears. They back off because they don’t know how to deal with a
same-gender couple,” Cindy said. “It’s just so painful for me sometimes. I guess I’ve always
treated homosexuality like it’s a non-issue because it is to me. I’m starting to realize that it is in fact an issue for some people, and that makes it not a non-issue.”
On one night in particular, some of the members and church leaders were discussing the possibility of becoming an RIC church. All of the pastors were there, along with the president of the congregation. Cindy noticed one of the pastors hadn’t been talking so she asked him what he thought.
She asked him, “If you were in this beautiful building with a roaring fire, hot coffee, and all of these people were in there together, and then you saw me walking down the street without a coat in
40-degree-below weather, would you invite me in?”
His response was, “It would depend on what the congregation said.”
“I just kind of lost it. I got teary and said, ‘I can’t believe that after spending all of my life in this church — being both baptized and confirmed here — that I’m asking you at this point to accept me as a child of God.’ It was pretty tough.”
Even though the church never officially became an RIC congregation, the community slowly became more accepting of LGBT people. One pastor held a four-week session on homosexuality at the church in hopes of not necessarily changing minds but of broadening perspectives. He hung up five different posters. Each poster had a statement that expressed a different attitude toward homosexuality such as “I have a lot of homosexual friends,” “I know a few homosexuals,” “I
don’t know any homosexuals,” and “The idea makes me uncomfortable.” At the beginning of the session the pastor asked the participants to read the posters and silently consider which one they identified with the most. He then began to discuss the biological and sociological complexities of human sexuality. At the end of his presentation, he asked participants to read the signs silently and think about whether or not they identified with a different sign.
Cindy said, “It was a very gentle, subtle way of beginning to talk about things.”
Cindy has been able to take part in a few trips to Tanzania with her church. During her first trip there, the group almost immediately faced the same issue that had previously caused some members to leave their church.
“One of the first things a Tanzanian person said to us when we arrived was, ‘We hear you have a problem with homosexuality in your country.’ No one knew what to say or how to respond.”
“I have a strong spiritual connection and a love amongst my friends in Tanzania that I have not been able to feel anywhere else. Those people are my brothers and sisters, yet they don’t know I’m gay. I don’t like that they don’t know, but I have not been able to figure out whether or how to talk to them about that yet.”
Cindy learned from an early age that family is what you make it. As an adopted child she found unconditional parental love from two wonderful people. As a mother of an adopted son, she is now able to share that love with him. Cindy only hopes that the Lutheran church can continue to adopt all of God’s children into the family.