Here is the fourth installment in a series of LGBT faith stories. Today’s story is about Rob and Laura, parents of a lesbian daughter. Here are links to the earlier stories:
Ten stories of LGBT persons and their families have been compiled and written by Kari Aanestad, a seminarian at Luther Seminary in St Paul. They are offered in a booklet from the website of the Joint Synod Inclusivity Committee, representing the two ELCA metro synods in Minnesota. The stories are offered as a lead in to the ELCA convention that starts in Minneapolis on August 17th. Proposals to allow gay marriage and gay clergy are on the agenda.
Listen to Kari tell the story of Rob and Laura:
When I knocked, a woman with striking white hair answered the door. Her husband, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is confined to a wheelchair, greeted me warmly from his seat in the
sunroom where we met. Rob and Laura are in their mid sixties and are parents to two daughters, one of whom is lesbian. Rob and Laura have been active members and leaders in their congregation for 40 years, and have also been active at the national level in the ELCA.
When their daughter told them she was gay, they were not sure how their church would react, since they had seen the division in the church over this issue. They feared ostracism, rejection and judgment. However, as a result of good pastoral care and the openness of their Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation, Rob and Laura’s family was warmly received.
Their daughter Sally and her partner are public educators, who lead busy lives raising a family, and do not dwell on their sexual orientation, although they are out and open. To protect the privacy of Sally and her partner, Rob and Laura have chosen to remain anonymous.
Sally went to graduate school in psychology. “She came out to herself in graduate school and finished sorting out her definition of herself,” Laura said. Sally had met her future life partner in graduate school. “When she finished grad school, Sally told us she was gay and that she and her partner had made the decision to live together.”
The coming-out process is a journey for both the LGBT people and their families. “At first Sally didn’t want us to come out so we kept it to ourselves,” Laura said. “After a while it began to feel ‘like an elephant was sitting with us in the room’ when we were among our friends. We needed more honesty in our lives.”
Rob and Laura first told their pastors about their daughter. “They were open and wonderful,” Laura said. “We were able to come out, and that was very healing for us. They suggested we attend a monthly support group called Caring Families and Friends. We attended for quite some time and learned that many fine persons and their families were traveling the same road as us. We heard
their stories and learned to tell ours.”
While Rob and Laura attended the support group, their own Minneapolis church started to take the steps to become an RIC congregation. Soon after beginning the process, the church issued a statement of welcome to persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities, which was a great relief for Laura and Rob. After receiving support and encouragement from their faith community, Rob and Laura began talking to their friends.
“It took us awhile to come out but when we did, you can’t even imagine the reaction we received,”
Laura said. “We learned that some of our closest friends were going through exactly the same thing. Our friends from Phoenix came one weekend, and we shared with them that our daughter is gay. After hearing this, the woman left the room in tears. She eventually came back and told us her daughter is also gay, but they hadn’t been able to be open with anyone about it.”
Laura learned her friend had spoken to her pastor at a large Lutheran church in Phoenix about her adult daughter’s sexual orientation and her committed same-gender relationship. The pastor told her that homosexuality is wrong and also that as a mother, she had probably caused her daughter to be gay.
“People need to be who they are,” Laura said. “Our friends did not receive the same respect and support that we received in our journey of coming out as a family. I fear the church risks becoming dysfunctional or possibly irrelevant if it is unable to come to terms with accepting all of God’s children.”
After nine years of being together, establishing their careers and owning a home together, Rob and Laura’s daughter Sally and her partner began discussing the idea of having children. They attended counseling sessions at Rainbow Families, a community based non-profit organization that provides services for LGBT families and is a part of the national organization, Family Equality Council. The counseling sessions specifically seek to prepare gay partners for becoming parents. Following the counseling, the two began working with a reproductive health clinic. The first attempt failed, but the second time worked and Sally became pregnant.
“After three months into the pregnancy our daughter and her partner began announcing it to family and friends,” Laura said. “Baby showers were given and we were able to be open and receive congratulations, especially when the twin granddaughters were born.”
Their birth was announced in Rob and Laura’s church newsletter just like that of any other grandchildren. Sally and her partner also found a Saint Paul Lutheran church with an openly gay
pastor and a diverse, welcoming environment. They both joined, and Sally’s partner was baptized and confirmed as an adult. The twins were baptized there in a worship service with many of Rob and Laura’s extended family present.
“It was all pretty exciting,” Laura said.
When the twins became two years old, Sally’s partner legally adopted them. Now they have two parents: a birth mom and an adopted mom. Sally and her family live an hour from the Twin Cities and cannot attend the Saint Paul church regularly. They have tried to find a church in their community that is as welcoming, but have not yet been able to. They do attend a local Lutheran church with several thousand members where right now they feel it’s best to stay pretty anonymous, which saddens both Rob and Laura. Rob and Laura have been anything but
anonymous in their church.
“When our church asked me to be the president of the congregation, I felt OK accepting the position because the congregation had specifically taken steps to become a welcoming RIC
church. I had an open, honest relationship with our pastors,” Laura said. “They knew all about our daughter, and my leadership wasn’t a problem for them.”
Even though Laura and Rob’s church became RIC a few years ago and issued a statement of welcome to LGBT people and their families, the church has not yet been able to agree to ordain a highly qualified youth and family minister who has been on staff for the past several years and who is in a same-gender relationship.
“The issue of ordaining her came up three years ago, but some members were very troubled and bothered about the issue, and it has yet to be brought to a congregational vote,” Laura said. “It has been difficult to this day, and the issue is still unresolved and troubling. Some members say they don’t want to go against the ELCA church policies and teachings; others say our church doesn’t have enough money to call and ordain another minister. Whatever the reasons, some members seem to be using excuses not to move forward.”
“It just breaks my heart to see someone so qualified and ready for a call but we can’t officially ordain her,” Laura says. “Our journey of coming out has taught us that the path to wholeness is through acceptance and understanding.”