Friday, December 24, 2010
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together
As we prepare to celebrate Christ's birth, for followers of Christ, also known as Christians, this is a blessed time indeed.
And as we prepare in this time before Christ's birth known as Advent, how fortuitous that we may also prepare ourselves with one more step in equality for all with the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)."
As a Christian, as an African American woman and as a lesbian, that was my reaction Saturday to the announcement, on the eve of the third week of Advent, that Congress would change the law of the land and break down one more barrier with the repeal of DADT.
Just as the racial integration of the military and the allowance of women in the service helped move this nation forward in truly becoming all that she can be by recognizing the equality of all, so to does the decision to open that circle to gays in the military.
Lesbians and gays have always served in the military, but this act of Congress allows those, who have always been with us, to not fear losing their chosen career because of who they are.
And just as the acceptance of blacks and women into military life created all sorts of ramifications for blacks and women in the private sector, so to will this change.
And that is why the timing is fortuitous.
You see, Advent, that period before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Christ, is a time of waiting, watching, longing and preparing.
Be it the cries of Old Testament Israelites held captive, or my slave ancestors crying out for justice from systemic oppresion, there is a yearning for deliverance from oppression that is marked by prayer; and for Christians celebrated with the coming of Christ into the world.
So what does all this talk of advent and Christ have to do with DADT?
It means that a shift has occured. It means that now we really start talking about equality and what that looks like. It means that we look at what is in place to maintain bias and inequality. It means we look at leaders' ability to lead and create a climate of change that is not based in fear but in awareness, intelligence and wisdom.
It means that we pray.
Some will use Bible passages and their identity as Christians to squelch discourse and by claiming that homosexuality is against God. But as a follower of Christ, as a Christian lesbian, I say to you God created everyone.
Bible passages have been used to approve of slavery and silence women. God doesn't change, our understanding of God changes as we grow silent and listen to God's message, to the Christ message of love.
As Paul stated in a letter to the Galatians 3:27-8
"For as many of you baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
As we celebrate the birth of Christ and his message on this Christmas Eve, may it be so.
Merry Christmas and Blessings to you all.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Come celebrate with St Johns United Church of Christ 6 pm tonight at their open and affirming banquet
Last night at the Wealthy Street Theatre Queeries Movie "Fish Out of Water," I saw Theresa Bileth the Open and Affirming Committee Chair for St. John's. She was practically floating with excitement on the eve of her first planned community event.
Not only will there be good food, music and supportive friends from area churches present, (and there is still room for you) she is excited about her church.
So hear now from Theresa Bileth about why this is important. And consider your own churches and faith communities. What is there for you to celebrate? Let me know, and I will help spread the news.
"On March 26, 2010, St. John's United Church of Christ Grand Rapids was designated the 869th Open and Affirming congregation of the UCC! For those readers that are unaware, this designation recognizes and proclaims the depth of welcome and love that the congregation extends to all people, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Being open is not new to the United Church of Christ. The first gay pastor in the UCC was in 1972. Our church was given it's label because we live it, walk it and talk it every day. (Examples: Our pastor, Bill Lyons, spoke at the Stonewall Candlelight vigil downtown GR, our church was a sponsor for the Rock Out To Come Out concert downtown in Rosa Parks Circle in Summer '09, we participate in the AIDS Walks, we attend benefits around the city and hold a booth at West MI Pride Fest every year just to name a few.)
We have a history of standing up for others and wanted to have an event that would invite those in the community to celebrate not only our journey of acceptance but their own. We ALL belong and we are all welcome to participate in the full life of the church and the community.
On Saturday, Oct. 16th, we will gather to celebrate not only our Open and Affirming designation but our history of hospitality and welcome by presenting the St Johns UCC Grand Rapids Open and Affirming Banquet.
We will tell the stories associated with each milestone along the way—from our refugee response in WWII, our welcome of women in leadership, female pastors, gay pastors, our accessibility addition in the 1980s, same sex unions, our Open and Affirming designation earlier this year, etc.
The banquet will also include a beautiful catered dinner by West Michigan Caterer owner Bobby Johnson and wonderful entertainment by multi-album Michigan based recording artist Ben Walter and his band, Notes to Myself.
We are thrilled to present this meaningful celebration. We pray that it shines a bright light on the journey of acceptance and hospitality that the United Church of Christ has always extended to the wider community.
We pray that the people attending will feel inspired to pay it forward, shine brightly and lift those around them. Peace. Hope. Love. Equality. Compassion. Acceptance. Every voice counts!
Blessings and good luck on your work. St. John's United Church of Christ is located at 1934 Bridge St. NW at the corners of Bridge St, Covell St. and Lake Michigan Drive.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
This is a must-see documentary for any gay Christian who has felt like a fish out of water while honoring their faith and their God-given sexuality.
Here is how the Community Media Center describes the event.
"The film tackles the seven Bible verses used to condemn homosexuality and justify marriage discrimination. This feature documentary uses humor and original animation to make a traditionally complex and controversial topic accessible to those who don't like talking about religion and sexuality.
"Fish out of Water dives into the underbelly of America, crisscrosses red and blue states and talks to ministers from every denomination to uncover America's impassioned relationship with homosexuality and the Bible. With slapstick animation and quirky interviews taken everywhere from barbershops to mega churches, Fish out of Water delivers a voice to the oppressed and informs to the misled.
"Most importantly, Fish out of Water sits down with hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks to impart their experiences with faith and sexuality. This unique lens spans across culture, race... Written by Ky Dickens
The Queeries is a monthly LGBT film series for the Grand Rapids area. It is brought to you by GVSU's LGBT Resource Center, Speak Equal, Rumors Night Club, the Ameriprise office of Sylvia Frattallone, the Network, Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan, and Community Media Center
After watching the movie, come visit the tables of gay friendly groups in the lobby including mine, the Gays In Faith Together table.
Here you will find multiple resources including copies of sermons from affirming local ministers on the subject. You can sign up for more information on how to join the "Gay Christian? Yes!" action teams that interest you and sign up for a new support group of gay Christians and allies who choose to stay and change from the inside, their non-affirming congregations and Christian organizations.
Tickets for the show are $6 for the general public and $3 for Community Media Center members. Doors open at 7:15 p.m. amd the 2.5 hour movie begins at 8 p.m.
For more information, see the community media center website. www.grcmc.org/events.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Wednesday, Oct. 13, is Ally Week for ALL K-12 students in Kent County. As everyone has been reacting to the rash of deaths across the country from bullying, what actions are being taken? What conversations are being held?
On Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. students from across Kent County have the opportunity to learn about celebrating ally week in their schools. They will participate in an anti-oppression training led by a national staff member from the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and they get the chance to meet students from across Kent County who are trying to make their schools better places for everyone.
This event will be held at 227 East Fulton Street in Wesley Hall at the First United Methodist Church downtown and is organized by student leaders, said Kristen Hanson, of the Grand Rapids chapter GLSEN.
The site provides ample free parking. There will be free food and free goodies. This event is only for K-12 students, friends and and educators.
For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Following this brief introduction and invitation is a reprint of the "Be The Bridge" article I wrote for the Be One: Catalyst for Inclusion newsletter explaining transformative dialogue.
Starting the week of Oct 3 and for the next six weeks, there will be small, free, community dialogues across Grand Rapids at various nights as members of the lgbt and heterosexual community engage in safe, thoughtful, respectful and eventually transformative dialogues with one another.
Everyday there is something in the news regarding someone from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual communities that can lead to vitriol instead of conversation, heat instead of light,judgement instead of gentleness, ignorance instead of education.
What if we talked and really listened.
Interested? GIFT is collaborating with Be One, whose mission is to be a catalyst for dialogue, learning and healing and to create a safe region for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ability, religion or other social identity.
The talks will be held as follows. Please contact a facilitator if you care to join or email@example.com for more details and to sign up for future dialogues.
-Wed. 7-9 pm
West Michigan Strategic Alliance meeting room, 951 Wealthy St. SE
Theresa D. McClellan (Theresa@GaysInFaithTogether.org)
Tedi R. Parsons (firstname.lastname@example.org)
-Wed. 2-4 p.m.
Free Spirit Worship Center, 820 Monroe Ave. NW
Rev. Mary Martin (email@example.com)
Mark Hepper (firstname.lastname@example.org)
-Tues. 7-9 pm
First Place Bldg. 207 East Fulton St. across from First UMC Church
Jim Lucas (JimLuca@GaysInFaithTogether.org)
Cara Oosterhouse (email@example.com)
-Sunday 2-4 pm
Eastern Ave. CRC, 514 Eastern Ave. SE
Chad Beyer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vicki Johnston (email@example.com)
By Theresa D. McClellan
Be One Executive Committee member
There is hope and excitement brewing that started on the edge of
downtown Grand Rapids this summer as 35 leaders, who are serious
about inclusion, gathered to learn how to do more than just talk.
They gathered in the offices of the Grand Rapids Community
Foundation, brought there by a vision to create a more inclusive
environment for LGBT people in West Michigan through
While many in the room have had the vision, it all started coming together June 8 at the “Be the
Bridge” daylong interactive conference created by Be One: Catalyst for Inclusion.
And by the end of the day, those who believe there is room for all also realized they are not alone and there will be many strategies and efforts; as evidenced by the connections made in the room.
Be One brought in a national leader on inter-group relations to explore how to facilitate meaningful dialogue about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender issues.
After undergoing her skillful exercises and guided discussions, the sparks and potential for
change were palpable even for the University of Michigan facilitator, Adrienne Dessel, who said
she ended the program “feeling excited” for our West Michigan community.
So what caused all this excitement?
One source of excitement is seeing the diverse community interest with the presence of business
professionals, faith leaders, students, widows, young, old, gay, straight and the realization that
some people will not fit into boxes.
Another source of excitement was the energy generated by the exercises and group
conversations which led to a deeper understanding of the power of safe spaces, skilled facilitation and group dynamics.
In just eight hours, participants were sharing thoughtful, personal and powerful pieces of
themselves which allowed them to go deeper and in some circumstances broaden their outlook
on how people are seen.
For example, after a seemingly innocuous questionnaire defining ourselves which resulted in an
open group conversation on interpretations and definitions, one participant commented, “just
having this conversation has changed how I think of myself.”
Indeed, creating awareness, common ground and new ways of thinking is part of what happen
with transformative dialogue and such dialogue can prove to be a catalyst for change.
As we engaged in deeper conversations, questions were asked, which could not be fully explored
in an eight-hour segment, but which could result in powerful and life-changing discussions in six
to eight week sessions.
This is part of the plan for Be One.
The June 8 training gave participants a taste of what could happen during a six-week dialogue
workshop. Those sessions are scheduled for the fall of 2010 and will involve six teams of six to
10 persons learning and practicing the Be One system of dialogue which could lead to the “full
inclusion” of LGBT and other marginalized individuals and groups in our community.
Now some may wonder what is the benefit of engaging in conversation with those who do not see
the world the same. Or to be more direct, what is the point in engaging in conversation with
someone who views gayness as a sin and those in the LGBT community as sinners?
While some participants shared stories of being shunned by their churches and losing their faith,
others shared stories of being ostracized and refusing to leave, causing them to stay in the
difficult and worthwhile conversations. They told of transforming stories, of baby steps and of the
power that comes from honoring the "critical events" in our lives which change us.
Take the step. Join us.
Theresa D. McClellan serves on the executive committee of Be One: Catalyst of Inclusion. She is also the Faith Advocacy Coordinator for Gays In Faith Together. For
further information about Be One, visit b1catalyst.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together
When I first came to Grand Rapids in 1980, we were known as the city of churches. We were defined by our religion and our different denominations.
It wasn‘t always an image that brought to mind open arms and open doors.
But what would happen if we used that clout, that strength, that foundation as the city of churches to create a message, a vision of God’s love - for everyone.
What if we created a network of churches: Baptist, Catholic, Christian Reformed, Church of God in Christ, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Non-denominational, Reformed … any way you wanted to worship, it could happen for you, your divorced mother, your gay brother, your transgender neighbor.
You don’t have to hide who you are when you sit in the pew, because as followers of Christ, you can be all that God has meant you to be.
Because you don’t have to hide, you are whole. You are grounded. You are solid in your belief and understanding of God’s love for you and you are learning God’s purpose for you.
Because there is no longer shame heaped upon you as you are, you no longer feel the need to “fit in” and enter into relationships that were never meant for you.
You no longer feel the need to bury your shame and guilt about being who God made you to be by over indulging in food, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex.
You can openly study and learn about and from others like you without fear. Resources are plentiful. You can find movies in your community that challenge you and make you think. You have books, artwork and community events that bring you joy.
Because you are feeling solid in your faith and yourself, you create study groups within your church and you enjoy growing and learning from one another. You partner with other churches for study groups, teaching and learning from one another.
You are excited about reading the Word and engaging others. You see clearly the messages of Christ and even see Christ’s Spirit in others.
You encounter others in the community who are hesitant and who have been taught to be fearful of accepting you and you engage them in conversation. You are grounded and open and with a loving heart.
You recognize that for some, this idea of a gay Christian or a gay person of faith, is foreign and goes against everything they have been taught. And because you come from a place of love; a love of God, a love of yourself, you are firm and loving in your responses.
What is Gay Christian Yes? It is a movement. A reclaiming, if you will, of Christianity. A reclaiming of the social justice message of Christ.
Just as we define ourselves as members of the (lesbian gay,bisexual and transgender) LGBT community, we also define and are defined by our relationship with God. It is personal. It is strong. It is powerful and ever growing.
And because it is a relationship, we nurture it. We question it. We hold it up, exploring its boundaries and we grow it. And the beauty of being a gay Christian is that we also have a chance to be a gift, if you will, to other Christians.
For most heterosexual Christians, their faith is taken for granted and their relationship to God is taken for granted. But because we have questioned and been questioned, we know the faith journey, we are the faith journey and we can be leaders for other Christians, gay, straight, questioning.
Won’t you join GIFT as we create a coalition of individuals, churches and organizations, friends, family and allies who want to make West Michigan a place where all God's children are affirmed ?
-Join our first "Sun & Spirit Book Study Club" starting Tuesday July 27 where we will discuss the first four chapters of "Bulletproof Faith" by the Rev. Candace Chellow-Hodges.
- Attend the "Sisters in a Strange Land" weekend retreat for Christian lesbians led by Melanie Morrison and myself August 20 at the Leaven Center in Ionia county.
- Check out our GIFT website at http://www.gaysinfaithtogether.org/ and become a member
and keep visiting for information on new programming and chances to support GIFT.
Monday, May 24, 2010
The atmosphere Saturday afternoon was festive and the winery at 4665 Broadmoor SE was filled with the enticing smells of homemade soups, as well as some wonderful dishes created by our kitchen chefs. Visitors dropped by each table, peering into soup pots and and grabbing ladles to serve themselves. Or they clustered in small groups for the wine-tastings of such memorable treats such as the rich and silky red Rossa Grande wine or the decadent raspberry chocolate wine.
There was much laughter as well as full bellies by the end of the day. We expect to have future social events to compliment our issue-driven seminars, community talks, book clubs and speakers. Look here and our facebook page for future events and let us know what events you would like to see.
And just so you know who has bragging rights for the year, kitchen chef Erica DeVries claimed top prize, a beautiful soup mug and plaque in the soup competition with her "pea soup" entry and yours truly claimed second prize with my "savory sausage and spinach soup."
The first place prize for the corporate competitors went to San Chez Bistro with their Chicken Pazoli soup.
Thank you again for all our entrees and we hope to see you again next year for what will be an annual event.
Monday, April 19, 2010
The money will be used for programming to widen our outreach to lgbt people of faith and to supportive churches wanting to pastor to all.
To purchase tickets in advance, send your check to GIFT at 207 E. Fulton Street, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, or order on-line (two tickets minimum on-line) at www.gaysinfaithtogether.org.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
10:00am - 1:00pm
Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ
4010 Kalamazoo St. SE
Grand Rapids, MI
12 noon Presentation and Q&A
Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ
4010 Kalamazoo Ave. SE
You don’t have to attend the worship service in order to participate in the presentation. Lunch is free to attendees of worship and/or the workshop. Childcare will be provided.
About Plymouth Cong, UCC:
Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a local congregation of the United Church of Christ, a mainline, Protestant denomination of 1.5 million members, with a tradition of progressive involvement in issues which uphold the rights, dignity, and equality of all people under God.
At Plymouth, we seek to celebrate God's inclusive grace and unconditional love in affirming the diversity of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and economic status. All have need of God's grace, all have gifts to share for the just and peaceable reign God intends.
Our members have fought in war and fought against war. We have struggled with the question of sexual orientation and identity and have determined that God’s love is big enough to encompass all. We are a mix of ages and ethnicities, social and economic backgrounds. But, in our support and affirmation of each other, we are one family.
About Julie Nemecek:
The Rev. Dr. Julie Nemecek is a former university professor who lost her job for following the treatment protocols for her diagnosed condition. The Christian university where she worked said that following these protocols to reach some measure of congruence between mind and body was “un-Christian behavior”. She is a transsexual. During this process, Dr. Nemecek shared her story with the local newspaper. The story was quickly picked up by the Associated Press and ultimately appeared in various media including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, Newsweek, Christianity Today and numerous other local, regional, national, and international publications or broadcasts. From February 5th through March 15th 2007, Dr. Nemecek averaged 2-3 media interviews a weekday and over 100 interviews before the year was over.
Dr. Nemecek and Joanne, her life partner of 37 years, have been willing to share their story with all who wish to hear it. In the process they have both become outspoken activists for LGBT rights. They recently spoke from the steps of the Michigan Capital to a crowd that was estimated by local police to be nearly 3000. They have shared their story on university and college campuses, churches, and even the occasional high school campus. It is a story of injustice, pain, suffering, hope, and love.
Before moving into higher education in 1990, Rev. Nemecek served for 20 years in pastoral ministry including an inner-city Chicago church. She is an ordained Baptist minister and an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. She often shares how the move to an authentic life has had a positive impact on her spiritual life as well as her emotional well-being.
Julie and Joanne have three boys; all married. They also have four grandsons. Dr. Nemecek serves on the boards of Michigan Equality, Soulforce, Michigan Fairness Forum, and PFLAG Jackson as well as the advisory board of Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA).
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
For openly gay social justice advocate Bayard Rustin, that question was raised daily as he battled racism and homophobia while organizing the 1963 March on Washington that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence.
Come to Wealthy Theatre 7 p.m. Sunday Feb. 28 to see the free award-winning movie, “Brother Outsider: the life of Bayard Rustin.”
Mr. Rustin’s path of action, dignity and non-violence remains one of the lesser known stories of the civil rights movement. And the beauty of Black History month is that those acts of character in American history that are highlighted for 28 days, can be used to inspire ALL for 365 days a year.
The battles waged by Mr. Rustin are not issues that remains in the past. Racism and homophobia remain twin evils today. And when the person feeling the brunt of the attack is black and gay, the load can be insurmountable. But he did not bend.
How many lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people are ignored, dismissed or demonized in their churches right here in Grand Rapids?
How many have become invisible in their pews when they come to a church looking for guidance, acceptance, love?
What does that do to a person’s psyche and to their ability to be all that God has made them to be when they are told that they are on the wrong side of love?
Let’s start the community conversations.
“Brother Outsider,” the movie sponsored by GIFT (Gays In Faith Together) is in honor of Black History Month. GIFT is continuing it’s outreach to all with an affirming message that there are no mistakes, God made and loves us all and YES, you can be gay and Christian.
Come, join us.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
“The Lord will make a way.”
For as long as I can remember I have been telling family and friends this “Truth” when troubles seemed insurmountable.
For me this phrase means that by taking another look and asking for “God vision,” the answers come.
I’ve always had a solid connection to God; an inner knowing that God was walking with me, guiding my steps, loving me and smiling on me.
As a result, I’ve always had this sense of inner joy and of being blessed. It is a feeling which has buoyed me in some of the most dire circumstances.
Growing up in Detroit, we were raised Catholic in a tiny black Catholic Church school that merged with the local Polish Catholic school.
I learned early the lessons of racism, and the toll of being different. I also discovered the power of music and always, my connection to God.
Once I left Detroit for college at Michigan State University where I pursued a journalism degree, I joined a black gospel college choir which opened up my world even more. I discovered other churches and denominations with a rich social justice history. And yet, I always found something lacking.
By the time I graduated and joined the Grand Rapids Press in 1980 to become it’s religion editor, I was still searching for something.
And as an adult, once I realized I was gay, my personal God- connection did not falter, even though not everyone embraced my view of a God who loves me unconditionally.
I joined churches, enamored with their soul-stirring music or their powerful preaching, only to hear condemning words of people like me.
And once I was in love and looking to share the joys and woes of a new relationship with my spiritual leader, I was personally shot down by the words “That is not of God.”
I was wounded. I questioned. I believed differently. And I prayed.
I believed that God made me whole. That God does not make mistakes and God made me a
left-handed, African-American, lesbian, child of God and follower of Christ.
I also believed my past relationship with God was not changed because of love. I believe in the power of God to soften hearts, open minds, move mountains. So I stayed in those difficult conversations with my old pastor and before he left his old post, he held the Bible up before the congregation and stated, “this is a book of love,” not a weapon.
Since then I have participated in and led retreats for Christian lesbians finding their journey to God, in the Sisters in a Strange Land retreats at the Leaven Center in neighboring Ionia county.
So many of us have been wounded, or worse, when falsely told that God turns away from us because of who we love.
I pray daily, commune with God daily and continue to be awe-struck by the power of believing.
Today I am the Faith Advocacy Coordinator with Gays In Faith Together (GIFT), a turn of events that started with a leap of faith in pursuing another career after 28 years with the Grand Rapids Press.
I am excited to be working with you laying the groundwork for the “Gay? Christian? Yes!“ Campaign.
Our hope is to make West Michigan a place that affirms gays of faith..
My dream is to start the conversations, prayerfully and willfully, raising the veil from the pew whisperings and prepare to embrace all of God’s children and all that God has made us and meant us to be.
Growing up Catholic there was an old song I loved,
“They will know we are Christians by our love.”