Saturday, November 26, 2011

Special GRITS gathering Wednesday Nov. 30 You're invited!

"Ahh the holidays. Time for family, friends, the food. Sometimes Thanksgiving can be stressful. Were you and your relationship served up as the main course? Relax. Breath. Come to the next GRITS meeting 7 p.m. Nov. 30 where we'll all unwind, share holiday stories, laugh, pray, eat, support one another AND bring your dreams as we make plans for the 2012 future GRITS sessions and create a team to make it happen.

Things we're considering:
-Growing GRITS to twice a month meetings with speakers from area churches.

- GRITS outings: dinner anyone

-GRITS church visits: hey we are gay Christians, some of us don't have a church and are kinda shy about finding one. Go as a group.

-GRITS study sessions: what keeps you strong in the storm, how have others before you?
We'll be reading,learning and discussing the works of strong gay Christians including Rev. Melanie Morrison, Rev Candace
Chellew Hodge and your choices . . .

-GRITS action:
The idea of GRITS (God Rocks In The Stream) is creating and nurturing vocal, visible, strong LGBT Christians and allies. Standing strong in heavy currents. Being the one that stays and changing the course of the difficult conversations. Are there community projects we want to tackle/support as gay Christians in 2012?

Who we are:
We are in our 20s to 80s. We are churched and unchurched. We are struggling and solid. We are part of GIFTs "Gay Christian? Yes!" Campaign.

We provide unconditional love and support to one another through prayer, study, fellowship, fun, connections and collaborations. We are preparing ourselves for the reactions that will come in April 2012 as the "Gay Christian? Yes!" billboards are unveiled and we are letting the world know that yes, you can be gay and Christian. Yes, you can be an ally. Yes, you can be person of faith and LGBT.

Join us, see how much better we can be together!

GRITS meetings are held in The Vine, enter the rear southwest door of the First Place Bldg, 207 E Fulton Street, beneath the GIFT offices.
For more information call Theresa at 774-0446.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why we hold the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Hope

By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together

Less than 200 miles from Grand Rapids, a mother is grieving the loss of her 19-year-old child who was born male and self identified as a beautiful woman named "Treasure."

She was mutilated, burned and left on the ground like a piece of trash.

The publicized reactions by some, who read of this horrendous murder in Detroit last month focused on whether the victim, was male or female. Really?

The mother had to identify the torso of her loved one. The details are horrific. But because the one who was violated, is a member of the transgender community, one of the marginalized ones, there has been little outrage.

This is why we hold the Transgender Day of Remembrance. For all the non-conforming treasures out there who are cast aside. For all the mothers who are not allowed to fully grieve, their loss clouded by inane, insensitive, inappropriate questions, speculations and comments. For all those whose lives have been lost around the world to violence because they did not conform to the sexual roles expected of them.

We hold the Day of Remembrance for those who have been slain. We hold this day of Remembrance and Hope for those non-conforming transgendered friends who have come through the journey and found solid footing.

We also hold the Day of Remembrance for the allies who are willing to stand up and say "Enough" to those who see bullying, violence and murder as sport.

By the end of the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Hope service on Sunday November 20, 2011, participants will have celebrated all the ways that we are while recognizing the toll of violence being who you are has on the Gender variant community.

It is on that tightrope of remembrance and hope that allies and gender variant people will reveal how we can make a difference and change the course of bias, said organizers.

These messages of remembrance and hope will be interwoven into a service featuring a thought-provoking message from nationally known activist and educator the Rev. Dr. Julie Nemecek, soul-stirring music and presentations from the gender variant community.

The service will be held 6:00 p.m. Sunday November 20th at Plymouth United Church of Christ, 4010 Kalamazoo Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI. The service is being planned by the Transgender Education Collaboration, Transpectrum, Plymouth United Church of Christ and GIFT (Gays In Faith Together).

"So often transgender and gender variant people go through their lives unnoticed by others. But there are exceptions where bias prejudices and even violence makes life impossible and all too often cut short for people that do not follow the societies’ ideas of gender,” said transgender educator and activist Jena Lewis.

“We hope that by both taking the time to remember, but more importantly to celebrate gender variant people, we can help open eyes in the community, and maybe even open doors for gender variant people." said Lewis.

Through the sharing of stories, reading of names and visual presentations, the service will create a space where all are free to be. There is hope that the service will serve as a springboard of action for others wanting to make Michigan and the rest of the world a safer and more informed place for the transgender and gender variant communities. Following the service, organizations such as the Transgender Education Collaboration (TEC) will have information and make connections during a reception for all present, said event co-organizer M Kelley.

A planning team, led by Lewis, Kelley and VanDoren have been working to create a space where there is space for hope and remembrance. The service will have secular and spiritual overtones as recognition that some in the transgender community have been shunned by religious traditions and would not feel comfortable in a church setting.

My faith tells me God rejects no one. So when anyone is rejected by the church, or church followers it is our role to make sure that everyone knows the outstretched arms of God embrace all, even if you've been told God does not live in or believe in you.

Please join us:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What is the future for Gay Christians in West Michigan?

By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together

On Thursday night, crowds will pour into the Loosemoore Auditorium on the downtown campus at GVSU to watch the free premier screening of the People's History of the LGBTQ community in Grand Rapids.

From the trailers and descriptions posted on the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy, (GRIID)website, we will hear interviews, see archived Grand Rapids Press news clippings, and television news broadcasts about the struggle for justice and equality by the LGBTQ population in Grand Rapids.

We will see familiar faces from Grand Rapids' past and hear stories that make us cringe in pain over the blatant discrimination, dismissal and demonization of who we are. We will rise up in our seats in recognition of those who paved the way before us. And if we are really listening and not just socializing, we will ask ourselves what is my role, what can I do?

The faith community is an important piece and continues to be an important piece of that struggle. We will see how people of faith wielded their religion to restrict, and we will also see how people of faith stepped up and reclaimed a vision of a God of love and hope.

As we watch our history, as revealed on this screen, consider where you fit in and consider how you represented your faith? Also consider, how do you want to be seen in the future? And before and after the movie, stop by our Gays In Faith Together (GIFT) table and see where you can fit in in making West Michigan a beacon of hope for all with our "Gay Christian? Yes!" Campaign that will launch publicly in 2012.

Our mission is to "proclaim the love of Christ for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) people and their allies and to affirm their presence and inclusion in the Christian community."

For some, that mission is pretty radical. As followers of Christ, we see it no other way. Which is why we are launching a bold, exciting, blessed and Spirit-filled Campaign that will launch publicly during the 50 days of the Easter season 2012 and continue at least through 2013.

We are forming a collaboration of churches, other organizations and individuals to lay the groundwork for this exciting campaign. There is a lot of movement in Grand Rapids and West Michigan on LGBT concerns that will affect the history and future of who we are and how we are in this community and beyond.

So make sure you also visit the tables of others such as Holland is Ready and TEAM as well as the gay-friendly churches present. And after the movie, some of you will consider joining the fundraiser at the neighborhood pub The Meanwhile Bar where the Until Love is Equal group has gathered.

Let us create a groundswell of hope and support and action.

In creating this work, GRIID creator Jeff Smith explained it this way.

"There is an underside to every age about which history does not often speak,

because history is written from records left by the privileged.

We learn about politics from the political leaders, about economics from the entrepreneurs,
about slavery from the plantation owners, about the thinking of an age from its intellectual elite."

Howard Zinn

Following the model of radical historian Howard Zinn, this project involves the documentation of the history of the LGBTQ movement in West Michigan.

By doing interviews and collecting archival material, this project has produced a documentary film and an online archive of material about the struggle for equality and justice by the LGBTQ community in West Michigan. The screenings of “A People's History of the LGBTQ Community in Grand Rapids” will allow for continuing dialogue about the LGBTQ movement and provide a forum for current and future organizing.

This is a project of the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy. The LGBT Resource Center is proud to be a co-sponsor along with GVSU’s Kutsche Office of Local History.

Come join us Thursday 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Loosemoore Auditorum in downtown Grand Rapids on the GVSU campus.

We will be there. I hope you will also. Because our vision for West Michigan is "that every LGBT person may walk freely in the love of Christ."

That has not been our history. May it be our future.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bless tonight's 7 p.m. National Coming Out Day Service

By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
"Gay Christian? Yes!" Campaign

There is an excitement in the air as we ready for tonight's National Coming Out Day service at St. John's United Church of Christ, 1934 Bridge St. NW.

The hard work of the programming committee of the "Gay Christian? Yes!" Campaign is evident. The songs, the message, the creation of a sense of togetherness, purpose, family, solidarity and love is not by chance.

On this day we ask everyone to COME OUT! Show who you are. Embrace all that God has made you, be that lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, ally.

One friend wrote on his Facebook page that he is coming out as a heterosexual who strongly supports the LGBT community.
I like that. That takes guts.

Others are considering coming out as Christian members of the LGBT community. This is another action that takes guts for there are those who say you cannot be a person of faith and LGBT. Some of those voices come from within the LGBT community, from people who have been so bullied from the pulpit they say why embrace your oppressor?

Others are pondering is it safe? Can I tell my sister, my mother, my father, my pastor, my Christian college counselor. I'm tired of walking on eggshells and telling so many lies to fit in. I, too, want to celebrate the love of someone who looks like me.

My heart goes out to those on that journey. Those first steps are excruciating. But the joy, the freedom, the reality that God makes no mistakes and the reality that there are places of worship that will embrace you, walk with you and who will ask you to walk with them as they learn their way. That is truly a blessing.

That is one of the joys of this "Gay Christian? Yes!" Campaign as more churches and individuals come on board to see how they can help,learn and walk with their congregation.

Come to tonight's service and you will hear stories from those coming out, you will hear music from the West Michigan Gay Men's Chorus that will make your heart soar. You will hear a gospel song that comes from my story. "I Want You to Know My God" a song I wrote more than a decade ago in response to a well-meaning pastor who informed me that my love of another woman was "not of God."

But my relationship with God told me a different story and as I came out to my pastor and shared my story, my faith and continued mutual dialogs, I saw the power of God as my pastor eventually held up the Bible and told the congregation, "this is a book of love, do not use it to beat up people."

We all have stories. Feel the poignancy, the power and the blessing of National Coming Out Day as celebrated in a church setting and stay afterwards for fellowship and learn more about our host church St. John's UCC led by the Rev. Bill Lyons, learn about out other gay-friendly churches and learn about the "Gay Christian? Yes!" Campaign.

The song I will sing with the Plymouth Chorus is also the kickoff of a song contest, a search for songs expressing the faith journey of LGBT Christians in all the ways that we are: Blues, Christian, Folk,Gospel,Indie, Jazz, Rock. The songwriter's contest will culminate in a concert in 2012.

Come Out and be blessed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is Gay a Gift?

By Theresa D. McClellan

So a recent response to a billboard outreach to the gay community by a Toledo church has prompted another church leader to erect nine billboards stating, "Gay Is Not a Gift"

The message is that "no one would choose this."

Often I hear lesbian,gay,bi-sexual,transgender (LGBT) and heterosexual people say; why would anyone choose to be hated and demeaned?

When actually the question should be, why would anyone choose to demean, diminish and dishonor any of God's creation; especially in the name of God?

For me, gay is definitely a gift. It is one of the many gifts God has blessed me with and that I have CHOSEN to embrace. It wasn't always so. Societal pressures, media messages, even messages from some pulpits, leave no doubt that fully embracing all that God has made you to be is not ok if you do not conform to expectations of masculine and feminine.

The fallout from this pastor's message will have some - who already wonder and question why they are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender, feeling unsure and unsafe.

But that is why there are allies, LGBTQ organizations and a continuously growing number of safe places of worship where people can explore how to be all that God has meant them to be.

As the Faith Advocacy Coordinator for the "Gay Christian? Yes!" Campaign under GIFT ( it humbles and pleases me to see the collaborative efforts here in Grand Rapids for the upcoming Oct. 11 National Coming-Out Day Service at St. John's United Church of Christ, 1934 Bridge St. NW.

With Scriptures that salve and a meaningful message from the Rev. Dr. Randal Jelks, this 7 p.m. Tuesday night service will hopefully heal wounds and open doors.

With powerful music from the West Michigan Gay Men's Chorus, poignant messages from those who have made the journey out of the closet and an original gospel song celebrating and affirming all of God's children, this worship service will prayerfully help answer the question, "Is Gay a Gift?

The answer is a resounding Yes! Gay is a gift. So is being heterosexual or however God made you. There are no mistakes.

After the Tuesday night service, visitors will be able to come downstairs for a dessert reception where we will fellowship with one another. There are more than two dozen churches on GIFT's ever-growing list of gay-friendly churches.

We are getting responses daily of their intent to be represented at the service with tables of information, sermons, adult-education programs, support.

My prayer is that those here in Grand Rapids who have been shamed and demeaned because of who they are, will realize they are not alone.

My prayer for Toledo, and the rest of the world, is that those who have been hurt because of how they are made will not drive by and see harsh words condemning them. They will look up in their community, whereever they are, and see hope.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Three men on a Wednesday

By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Fath Together

Wednesday night is rolling around again, but this time the story is different.
For on this Wednesday night, an 18-year-old man by the name of Max Singer is taking positive action against something that bothered him.

Armed with food, youthful energy and the unifying belief in accepting all people, Singer is organizing a youth march on Holland City Hall for Aug. 3

Max wants to raise his voice in protest, and give courage to other youths finding their voice, by demonstrating against the city council’s decision not to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the city’s non-discrimination ordinances.

On Wednesday, Max will ask the Holland City Council to reconsider its June 15 split vote.

He felt compelled to action after sitting through his first Holland City Council meeting July 20. He listened to the majority of supportive voices come from outside Holland. He realized how he felt on the issue and believed there were others in his age group who had remained quiet or unaware.

So he is organizing, through Facebook, a 5 p.m. march on Holland City Hall from Smallenburg Park. The culinary arts student decided he would provide food and cook for people, according to his proud mother who appeared Friday night in Grand Rapids at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids.

She was present for the showing of the Queeries movie, “Through Our Eyes,” the powerful documentary of earnest young gay Christians struggling with the messages of shame and condemnation they hear from their Sunday pulpits or in their homes.

One by one, the youths in the movie told painful stories of their inner struggle of trying to be themselves, while hearing soul-crushing messages from their faith leaders that who they were was unacceptable to God.

One youth told of being kicked out of his home by his father for being gay, while his crying mother said nothing in dutiful silence.

Another told of trying to pray away the gay and finally realizing after three years “the gay” would not go away.

Others told of knowing in their hearts, in their Spirit, that they were all right with God and of hanging on to that belief one day at a time.

I was glad to be watching this movie with other gay Christians from Plymouth United Church of Christ and St. John’s United Church of Christ. These are just two of at least 23 churches on our ever growing gay-friendly list of supportive churches.

I was glad to be with allies like Holland PFLAG, West Michigan Pride, Grand Valley State University GLBT Resource Center and of course GIFT (Gays In Faith Together) where we proclaim the news with resounding boldness that God makes no mistakes and Yes, you can be a person of faith and LGBT.

And I was glad we had set up information booths in the lobby telling of area gay-friendly churches and programs to affirm the LGBT community.

But before we watched the movie and saw the struggles of those in the documentary, we were reminded of the very real struggles of our neighbors in Holland.

Max’s mother spoke at the request of local journalist/facilitator Tommy Allen who wanted everyone to know what was happening in Holland. She told of her son, who like most his age, was oblivious to the City Hall actions. Since the vote, she has had signs in her front yard declaring her space a discrimination free zone. Sometimes the signs are stolen and she just makes more. On July 20 she brought her son to a council meeting and it was life-changing.

For a young man who had been raised in a family “committed to diversity” the young man with Hispanic and African-American siblings felt he had to “do something.“

He figured food would more readily bring people together, So he will feed them before the peaceful march. As his mother spoke at the theatre, others offered to bring food as well.

Contrast that with the actions of two men from the previous Wednesday.

They, too, saw something that “bothered them.”

Walking back to his car following a Michigan Equality reception for the new executive director, Denise Brogan Kator, Dave Battjes was attacked in downtown Grand Rapids.

He was wearing his pink Michigan Pride t-shirt and two young thugs in their 20s threw him up against a wall, punched him in the ribs, called him a gay slur and told him gays don’t deserve to live.

One young man encounters struggle around difference and wants to widen the circle. Two other young men encounter difference and want to destroy.

What messages have they been hearing that makes them think it’s ok to attack what is different? Who else is listening to those messages?

What are we doing to counter those vitriolic messages of dismissal and dishonor with messages of love, acceptance, affirmation and grace?

What are we doing so that no other child or adult, on a documentary movie screen or in our own backyard has to hear false and painful words about who they are and their place in the world?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spirit: Can't Crush This

As I walked through Riverside Park Saturday during the annual West Michigan Pride celebration, an old-school song, “Can’t Touch This,” from the prophet MC Hammer reached my ears and made me smile.

Of course, the way I think, I instantly gave it a new-school flavor and changed it to “Spirit: Can’t Crush This.”

For as far as the eye could see there were people filled with joy in the sunshine. Their Spirit was not shaken despite two separate heartbreaking decisions that week by the Holland City Council and the Christian Reformed Church Synod to maintain the status quo on harmful messages regarding the treatment of homosexuals.

On Monday the Synod decided 93-81 not to re-examine its theological position on homosexuality that has been unchanged since 1973. For those brave and determined allies and gay Christian Reformed Church Christians who supported the change, the decision to maintain the premise that homosexuality is sinful despite new studies, is heartbreaking.

And later that week the Holland City Council voted 5-4 to allow discrimination against homosexuals. Again, the rhetoric, the venom, the conversations that made it ok to accept that anyone should be treated less than, was heartbreaking.

But on Saturday, despite those voices in our communities that can wreak havoc on the souls and spirit of the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender community, there was pride and joy and light in the air at Riverside Park.

People were hugging one another, renewing old acquaintances, admiring new looks, flirting with one another, helping one another and basking in the freedom one has when one feels safe to hold hands in the park.

As the Gay Men’s Chorus stood on stage and the Rev. Matthew Cockrum of Fountain Street Church took the lead on a song about love, I watched young and old gay couples sitting in the grass sharing hot dog lunches, cuddled in one another’s arms and swaying to the music. Clusters of gay friends and family enjoyed the day just laughing, listening, being.

I watched drag queens dressed to the nines - in heels too fierce for me - command the stage with their presence; and sister-friends “Nervous but Excited” - with guitars and strong voices - pic their way into hearts of new fans.

Returning to my booth, Gays In Faith Together (GIFT), I watched with pride the confidence of young volunteers telling their stories of hope to strangers questioning if there was hope.

I swelled with pride and gave silent praise to Spirit when at one point our entire booth was engaged with visitors: a middle aged leatherman; a young lesbian couple with a baby; two gay teens; a mother with a gay son; a shy young black man, all with a hunger to know our message that yes, you can be Gay and Christian. Yes, you can nurture your spiritual life and embrace your sexuality. Yes, you can be all that God has meant you to be AND celebrate all the gifts that God has given you.

No, you are not an abomination. You are not evil. You are not unloved. You are not a mistake. You are not to take in those negative messages that crush your spirit.

My heart went out to a young man who told me he hasn’t been to church in eight years since a minister told him he was not welcome. He missed church, he said. He wanted a church home. I hugged him and showed him our growing list of more than two dozen gay-friendly churches and faith-based groups on our website and directed him to the record-number of churches and faith groups present in the park to say yes to him: Bridge Evidence Group; Center for Inquiry; First Park Congregational Church; Fountain Street Church; Plymouth United Church of Christ; Reconciliation Metropolitan Community Church; St. John’s United Church of Christ; and Westminster Presbyterian.

I saw love, and joy and connection and I thought of how the week started in Holland where discrimination found its footing with a 5-4 vote to deny efforts to even pursue the conversation.

I thought of the countless hours, efforts and prayers by Holland is Ready and other supporters to make a difference and I felt a sense of pride in their strength, grit, grace and Spirit that it takes to wage an uphill battle.

I relished in the eagerness of young allies and family members bringing their gay friends to our booth and the stamina of two senior volunteers who nonchalantly walked a half-mile to reach our booth just to be sure they could be there to provide yet another friendly face and listening ear in support of the lgbt community.

By the time we we ran out of fliers of our church listings and the sermon from our Chaplain Jim Lucas stating “God Does Not Condemn Us” the day had nearly ended.

But I left Pride with an extra buoyancy in my already joyful step because I knew that we had played an important part. This is why Pride is so valuable.

Spirit - Can’t Crush This.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

GIFT announces LOGO contest for "Gay Christian? Yes!" collaborative campaign

Are you creative?


Want to make a difference?

At West Michigan Pride today, GIFT announced the start of the GIFT LOGO contest for our "Gay Christian? Yes!" collaborative campaign.



The purpose of the GIFT Logo Contest is to design a logo for GIFT’s “Gay Christian? Yes!” collaborative campaign.
We want an original, unique (no clip art) and dynamic image that represents the joy, hope, and energy of what it means to say Yes! to being gay and Christian. By participating in the contest, the artist accepts and agrees to comply with the official rules.
- All entries, images and artwork become exclusive property of GIFT (Gays In Faith Together).

The logo will be used online, in print, and on merchandise. The final version of the logo will need to be suitable for high quality printing.

How to Enter:

1. All entries must fill out the “Logo Entry” form found on the website. This form requires that you list the name, address, phone number, age and email address of the entrant.

2. Entries may be submitted by email to with the subject line “logo contest” no later than 7:31 p.m. on 7/31/2011.

3. No more than 3 (three) entries may be submitted by any one entrant

4. Entries must conform to the Submission Guidelines set out below. Entries which fail to do so will be rejected.

5. Deadline for Entries is 7:31 p.m. July, 31, 2011.

6. There is no fee to enter the contest.

Required elements:
- The design must contain the words “Gay Christian? Yes!”
-We want an original, unique (no clip art) and dynamic image that represents the joy, hope, and energy of what it means to say Yes! to being gay and Christian.

Submission Guidelines:
The purpose of the Gays In Faith Together Logo Contest is to design a logo for the “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign collaborative. The winning design will appear, in some form, on all promotional materials for the collaborative. This includes posters, mugs, programs and t-shirts.

-Entries must be original.

-Care should be taken to ensure that Entries are not in any way similar to
existing logos or other copyrighted images.

-After you create the logo, convert the design into a usable web version and print quality version of the logo. The logo must adapt well to electronic and print media, to reproduction on small and large surfaces, and to use in color and grayscale.

Contest is open to everyone. If you are between the ages of 13 and 17, your parent or legal guardian must sign the consent block on the official entry form to ensure that you have your parent or legal guardian’s permission.


For purposes of submission, please submit the design in .png, .jpg or .psd for (Resolution of 300 dpi) AND as a .pdf file (less than 10MB). If the logo incorporates non-standards fonts, you must be able to provide us with the font should your logo be selected. If you are chosen as a winner, you MUST be able to provide a high-resolution vector file.


1. One crisp $100 bill
2. Artistic credit for your winning design on and an article on you in the Theresa’s Table blog.
3. The opportunity to be featured in an online interview.

Selection of winners:
All entry designs will be screened and those that comply with the contest rules and guidelines will be judged by our staff and volunteers of GIFT and be made available for a public vote.
The winner will be notified by phone, email or regular mail at the end of the contest.
In the event that no entry is selected, GIFT reserves the right to declare no winner and to run the contest again at a later date.

Please contact the GIFT office 616-774-0446 or send questions to

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kenyan minister dedicated to advocating for gay Christians in Africa comes to West Michigan to visit with GIFT at noon on June 3

By Theresa D. McClellan

When you live in a country where sexual minorities are shunned by church and society, how does your faith give you the strength to support and advocate for them and how do you give comfort to gays who feel the church is compelled to persecute them?

Listen, learn and be inspired by the message from visiting Kenyan pastor, the Rev. John Makokha, who will share his journey of faith and advocacy with GIFT staff and supporters in downtown Grand Rapids at noon Friday June 3 in Room 3109 at the First Place Building, 207 East Fulton St.

The Rev. John Makokha, a pastor in Nairobi, Kenya, is also the country director of "Other Sheep Africa" an organization dedicated to advocacy on behalf of gay and lesbian Christians. He and his wife, Anne, offer educational workshops for pastors, seminary faculty and lay church members on human sexuality and gender identity.

Their ministry is based on the Scriptures from John 10-16 "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

Rev. John is a senior pastor of the Riruta United Methodist Church and founded the "Children of Africa Hope Mission" where he and his wife provide elementary education, clothing and meals to orphans and other vulnerable children living in the slums of Nairobi.

Local philosophy professor and Fulbright scholar David Hoekema met Rev. Makokha last year while studying abroad in Nairobi. "We were deeply moved by their dedication to the slum residents of Nairobi they serve, to the plight of gay Kenyans shunned by church and society and to their dedication to the Lord," said Hoekema.

"We are eager to introduce John to others concerned for the future of the church in Africa," said Hoekema who has organized several opportunities for others to meet with Rev. Makokha during his week-long visit to West Michigan.

For anyone working to ensure that the message of God's unyielding love emcompasses everyone, and for those wanting to support an important ministry, this is a must-see session. So join us.

Rev. Makokha will also appear 6/4 at the Amazwi Gallery of African Art in Saugatuck. 6/5 at the 9:40 a.m. Sunday Westminster Presbyterian Church adult education forum, and 6/6 at a luncheon with Calvin College faculty and staff.

For more information, contact Professor Hoekema at 616-826-7046 or To learn more about Rev. Makokha's ministry, also see

Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together (GIFT)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Join us in Lansing May 14 for statewide faith-based conference on LGBT inclusion

By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together

This is an exciting time for the LGBT affirming faith community as we learn from one another May 14 in a statewide conference. I wrote this press release for the Together In Faith collaborative. The lineup for this conference will prove to be an exciting time. Whatever your faith background, you will be inspired and leave with new friends.
See registration info at the end of the release.

Faith does not mean exclusion. So what does it mean for the state of Michigan when all God's children are embraced and protected?

Join us May 14 when statewide faith leaders, committed to equality for all, gather to learn from and support one another in an interdenominational, multi-faith, multicultural conference in the state's capital.

The day-long "Together In Faith" conference "Lifting Up the Voice of All-Embracing Love" featuring workshops, resources, and worship, will highlight ways people of faith can be effective in working for equality for all within their faith communities and in the broader community.

Organized by the Together in Faith collaborative, this impressive, inclusive conference pulls from peoples of faith from the Upper Peninsula, Detroit and her suburbs, Western Michigan, Southwest Michigan and all points in between.

For too long, some have used their faith to beat down and hold back God's children and Michigan has become synonymous with tight-fisted oppression. We say that has to change as our faith compels us to create justice and to have an all-embracing, all-encompassing love of all that God has made.

Together In Faith is a continually growing statewide, interfaith collaborative of faith-based LGBTQ advocates and allies. The conference will be held May 14, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Pilgrim United Church of Christ Church in Lansing,Mi.

To register:

Sponsored by: Inclusive Justice, Divine Peace Metropolitan Community Church, Fortunate Families, Gay Christian? Yes! Collaborative, Gays in Faith Together, Michigan Fairness Forum, Michigan Round Table for Diversity and Inclusion, Interweave & Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network, LGBT Ministries of Central United Methodist Church, Oasis TBLG Outreach Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, OutCenter, Pilgrim United Church of Christ, PFLAG Detroit, PFLAG Manistee and the Southeast Michigan Synod Diversity Task Force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How to make soup

By Theresa D. McClellan
GIFT Faith Advocacy Coordinator

The soup pots are empty. The wine glasses are clean. Happy bidders walked away with their prize winnings, including the huge framed drawing of Barbra Streisand, and the conversations and laughter has temporarily ended.

Our second annual Soup, Wine & Silent Auction at the Cascade Winery was a success in so many ways as connections were made and renewed. Saturday's event occurred because so many people said "YES!"

Yes, I will open my doors to you and your organization. Yes, I will take time from my busy schedule and create and ladle soup for you. Yes, I will take my merchandise, my livelihood, and offer it up to you for the benefit of your organization and the important work you do. Yes, I am busy, but I will find a way to spend a few hours on a cold and wet Saturday to support you by purchasing a ticket.

And those who said no or not at this time created an opening for more conversations. Everyone in our GIFT family worked hard to make this happen, culling our resources and calling in favors.

I remembered at the last minute that I had tapped multiple sources except my own Blackberry, a phone that just keeps alphabetizing all the contacts and numbers I've thrown in there and imported from previous phones. So I started making calls, renewing conversations from relationships past.

"Yes, I retired from the Press in 2009. I work with GIFT now as their Faith Advocacy Coordinator. GIFT is an acronym for Gays In Faith Together."

Silence. Then "Wow. Really? Wow. My church feels strongly about that gay issue, that it's wrong. ...But I can't judge." I was told this more than once. And because of relationships built over the years, the conversation didn't stop there.

One woman told me she, too, felt strongly about the "gay issue" and agreed with her church. We've had a professional relationship built on mutual respect. She did not know I was gay. She realized it is hard to embrace church traditions that shun when you see the person as whole.

As we talked, she also realized there may be some in her Christian Reformed Church who could benefit from a message of God's love for all God's children and from connections with other gay Christians who embrace all that God has made them to be. She vowed to pass on my email address ( the GIFT website ( and the fundraising event to some in her church. We've also set up time to discuss my work further.

I spoke with a minister who let me know that "this will be a hard sell in the black church. Most black churches believe homosexuality is sin. It's a choice," he said.

It is a choice, I said. I choose to accept all that God has given me in order to be all that God wants me to be. We agree to have lunch and discuss this further.

At the fundraiser I spoke with an older black couple who came out to support me. Over soup and sips of wine we talked. "The church can be harsh on this issue. Sometimes I hate what I hear in my own church when they talk about gays. I think really, in 2011?" she said.

I remind her that there are likely members of the LGBTQ community in her congregation hearing those messages and suffering in silence in their pews thinking everyone agrees. Or perhaps the message is being uttered by a pastor thinking this is what the congregation wants to hear.

Another seed has been planted that will garner further conversation or entry into a church for further discussion. I am pleased. Because every time we hold a program or engage in conversation it gives us another entryway into spreading the message that there are no mistakes. God loves us all and Yes, you can be gay and Christian or a person of faith AND a member of the LGBTQ community.

These conversations can create allies and give courage to those who never thought they could be an ally. These gatherings give hope and safe spaces to members of the LGBTQ community and allies who love and support them. This fundraiser will help us continue our work making our way into churches and providing resources that give hope.

And just like a good soup or a fine wine we have brought together the ingredients that over time will make you say aaaaah. Blessings, and thank you all for your role in making this happen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where else can you say mmmmm, ahhhh, wow

Carmelized onions. Roasted red peppers. Tender succulent sausages. Baby sweet potatoes. Those are just a few of the special ingredients swirling in my wonderfully rich and decadent soup that you'll get to savor this Saturday at GIFT's fundraising soup competition, wine-tasting and silent auction at the Cascade Winery, 4665 Broadmoor Ave. SE

And that's just one dish. We'll have vegan fare, spicy soups and savory lentils to name a few as well as the chance to taste six wines from our fantastic vinters of the Cascade Winery. You'll be able to vote with your dollars for the favorite soup.

This year we've added an additional attraction with the silent auction that features multiple goodies including a $500-value landscaping package and $400 value custom songwriting gift package.

So join us Saturday April 16 at the Cascade Winery from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 from the GIFT office by calling 774-0446 or $7 at the door on Saturday.

That's a great price to come out, have fun with old friends, meet new ones and support the work of GIFT. So be prepared to delight your senses and say mmmmm! ahhh! WOW as you have fun and support GIFT.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Exciting week of opportunities for affirming the LGBT community


We are entering an exciting time and just wanted to remind you of the many opportunities starting Saturday to show your support and get support as a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-attractional and transgender community.

Starting 10 am today at The Spirit Space in Saugatuck, three speakers will lead the GLBT Spirituality Symposium during a "day of exploring, educating and encouraging our GLBT community."

For a $10 fee that includes lunch, there will be presentations by guest speakers, breakaway sessions and an open panel discussion from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Spirit Space, 3385 Blue Star Hwy in Saugatuck.
The day will include a viewing of the film, "Seven Passages" a docudrama created by Calvin College Professor Stephanie Sandberg based on more than 100 interviews with gay Christians in West Michigan. The daylong event also includes motivational speakers, inspirational writers, local residents and the parents of a transgender child.

Featured speakers include Mark Anthony Lord, Nancy Plantinga and Salvatore Sapienza.

Mark Lord is founder and director of the Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago. His latest book, "Nothin' Broken Here" is a guidebook for healing of gay shame. He offers a fresh perspective on sacred wisdom teachings. His training is in New Thought/Ancient Wisdom philosophies. He was first licensed at Unity School of Christian. As a student of Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, he received his Masters In Religion and Consciousness studies at Agape International Spiritual Center.

Nancy Plantinga is the founder of Natural Harmony Studios. Nancy is an acclaimed artist, massage therapist and musician whose mission is to assist others to "go within" and seek the inner healing of body, mind and spirit. She has exhibited her artwork in several juried shows and has received nationwide recognition for her portrait work. Nancy is also co-director of the Lakeshore Community Chorus.

Salvatore Sapienza is a former monk in the Catholic Church. Salvatore is the author of "Seventy Times Seven" which was nominated for two Lambda Literary awards including Best Spirituality. His latest book, "Gay is a Gift" shares the spiritual wisdom of gay shamans throughout history. He has written several cover stories for the "Gay & Lesbian Times" and has appeared locally on National Public Radio and PBS

Spirit Space is located at 3385 Blue Star Hwy in Saugatuck.....

On Sunday during the 10 a.m. service I will join Pastor Bill Lyons of St. Johns United Church of Christ 1934 Bridge St. NW to share information on GIFT's "Gay Christian? Yes!" campaign as part of their lenten series featuring a community program.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, 4010 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, an exploratory meeting will be held to gauge interest and support for a Grand Rapids PFLAG group. PFLAG is an important cog in the wheel of support for LGBT families,allies and parents

And 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday the monthly GRITS meeting will be held at the Vine in the basement of the First Place Bldg, 207 E. Fulton.
GRITS, which stands for "God Rocks In The Stream, is comprised of gay Christians who choose to stand strong in their faith and their churches, even though their churches, the colleges, their workplace or even their families are not necessarily affirming. Such a decision requires strength of Spirit and purpose to change from within. We find support in one another's stories, presence and purpose.

A little background . . .

Sometimes when you are a pebble in the stream you can feel overwhelmed as the waters rush over you. No single pebble affects the stream very much. But we are rocks of varying colors, substance, weight and depth. We all matter, and we all can make a difference.

Join us as we gather to support one another, learn from one another, hear one another and embrace the gifts we each bring as God Rocks In The Stream. Hence the name GRITS.

GRITS is also a recognition of the inner strength, the true grit if you will, that it takes to be the lone voice in your church, your job, your school, your family.

There are several opportunities to connect with and affirm the LGBT community, find a way this week to say Yes!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Michigan Civil Rights Commissions wants to hear your bullying stories

Have you been bullied? Is there a climate of fear around you? Does anyone hear your inner cry?
If you have been bullied, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission wants to hear your story. You are not alone and you will be heard.

Today, March 1, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Grand Rapids' Union High School,1800 Tremont Blvd. NW, testimony and stories will be taken and local supporters of anti-bullying efforts will make their voices heard. I will be there. So will representatives from schools, non-profit organizations and others in the community who want to ensure that your voice is heard.

A number of guest speakers will be present to speak about bullying, but the Commission really wants to hear from you, your personal stories.

The event will be at 1800 Tremont Blvd. NW at Union High School. Partners include: Kent Intermediate School District, Grand Valley State University, Grand
Rapids Community College, the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools, the Hispanic
Center of Western Michigan and the Wyoming Community Youth Coalition.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is taking bullying seriously. "We have taken up this issue because of the long-term, negative psychological and social impacts of bullying and harassment. People must be treated equally and fairly, whether at work, online, at school or in society in general. Working with other civil and human rights organizations, we are trying to raise
public awareness about this issue,” stated Matthew Wesaw, Chair, Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Bravo to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. Blessings, and bravo to you who come forward to tell your story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Grand Rapids' PFLAG?

By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together.

In this month of love and history, I have excitedly been preparing for future "Gay Christian? Yes!" collaboratives.

As we engage with more churches, encounter young and old ones who recognize themselves in the face of God, and hold up the ones who have been told God does not see them, I see the need for a Grand Rapids PFLAG.

I am not alone. Last night, I had the honor of meeting with a small group of people who are wondering if Grand Rapids could sustain an organization that works to support the parents and friends of the LGBT community.

There is already a lively and wonderful Holland/Lakeshore PFLAG chapter in Holland. I have attended their third Friday of the month meetings at Grace Episcopal Church, 555 Michigan Avenue, Holland where parents share with one another their joys and concerns, members of the LGBT community find solace among supportive parents, and the power of numbers dispel the mindset that one who loves someone that looks like them is abnormal.

An exploratory meeting will be held 7 p.m. Tuesday March 29 at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, 4010 Kalamazoo Ave. SE.

Plymouth, an open and affirming church, has been discussing the need and interest in PFLAG but didn't want to initiate a program since it should be parent-led. Around the same time, Nadirah Kharmai, a talented young video producer and GVSU graduate found the Holland chapter and was led to talks with Plymouth pastor the Rev. Doug VanDoren.

After much discussion other interested parties pulled together and met Tuesday night. After the meeting, Nadirah Kharmai issued this press release seeking more community input:

"Hi all:
A small team has gotten together to explore the avenue of creating a chapter of PFLAG here in Grand Rapids. Here are a few of questions the group has raised: Is there a need? Will parents and families come for support, and in turn, support others? Are there parents out there who will take on leadership positions?

We are looking for a group of enthusiastic leaders who have the time and passion to join us for a larger exploratory meeting where we will unpack the questions mentioned above.

There is an exceptional need for straight parents who have LGBTQ children to join us at our meeting. Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, has a coming out story.

Join our next discussion, bring your thoughts and ideas, and celebrate advocacy with us on March 29 at 7 p.m. at Plymouth United Church of Christ, 4010 Kalamazoo Ave. SE."


I say excellent news Nadira. My hope is that a Grand Rapids PFLAG, heavily supported by parents, will occur and it will serve to be yet one more resource of hope, support and advocacy for the LGBTQ community.

I will be asking the 27 gay-friendly churches on our GIFT website to post this information and query their congregation.

I especially see this need as we engage more churches in becoming affirming and welcoming to the LGBTQ community. If you as a parent would like to know more ways to support our adult and adolescent gay offspring feel free to contact


Sunday, January 16, 2011

On King's Dream: The Power of love and conviction

Editor's note:
Sunday I had the honor of celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday with the Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ in Douglas Michigan. This spirit-led congregation, shepherded by the Rev. Andrew DeBraber, allowed me to provide their homily for the day. The service was beautiful as the words of Scripture and of the Rev. King were interwoven throughout. Below is my homily.

We gather here in celebration and recognition of the birth of a man of
vision and strength. A man who had the courage to hold onto his
convictions and speak his belief in a world that could be just and
true for all.

A man who had the strength of spirit, and I call it the Holy Spirit,
who had the strength of Spirit to rally against the growing injustices
around him.

We are all familiar with the “I Have a Dream” speech during the March
on Washington which gives voice to his vision of an end to the racial
segregation and economic injustice.

Some may not know that he tried out that speech in my hometown of
Detroit during the Great Freedom March. On June 23 in the summer of
1963, I was just one of thousands of little black girls heading to
Woodward Avenue with our families near downtown Detroit during what
they called “The Great Freedom March.”

I remember walking alongside my two older sisters and eventually being carried by my
parents who were anxious to catch a glimpse and
get energized by the voice and the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., that preacher from the South who was changing the way the
world saw us.

His nemesis was the pervasive and oppressive racism and discrimination
of the day that let entire communities think they had the right to
prevent others from enjoying what they took as their God-given right.





At the age of five, peering over the crowds while safe in my father’s
arms, my nemesis was the scratchy skirt netting beneath my pretty pink
dress, so I wasn't exactly fired up by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr.'s
electric words of hope and vision.

But fast forward to college when I started to read and learn more
about the words and power of minister King and his message of
revolution and challenging the status quo.

I listened to his speech before concerned clergy and laity at
Riverside Church in New York on April 4 1967 where this Southern
Baptist, civil rights minister, this follower of Christ, made his
public stance on why he was against the war in Vietnam.

He spoke of the sin of silence.

And I became enthralled as he connected the dots of how this nation’s
chance to take war on poverty was usurped by the war on Vietnam.

And how the war of Vietnam was allowed to continue because once
again, we had segregated and demonized and made the situation a "thing"
instead of people.

You see, it’s easy to dismiss someone when you label them as other. Set
those fire hoses on those non-violent protestors seeking justice, they
are just black, ...they don’t matter.

Bomb those huts in those villages, there are overrun ..... with communists.

You can’t know God if you’re loving someone that looks like you.
That’s not ...natural.

Now I know there is great debate on what the Rev. King’s stance would
have been for those of us seeking justice and equal rights in this
country for the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender community.

I don’t know for certain. But as a gay Christian leading a campaign,
as the Faith Advocacy Coodinator for (GIFT) Gays in Faith Together, as a precocious child who recognized the importance of Dr. King when
I saw my father cry for the first time in my life after the murder of the Rev. King

,as an African American lesbian Christian who followed, listened to and
read the words of the Rev. King who speaks of his “commitment to
Jesus Christ”; his words and actions tell me that he would stand with
me in solidarity as I visit churches across West Michigan and ask for
your support in letting others know that yes, you can be gay and

I believe in the power of his conviction and faith as I say Yes, you
can be gay and a person of faith.

I feel the power of his passion as I tell you, God does not condemn
you or your love. God does not make mistakes. You are whole. You are
loved. Now go out and be all that God has meant for you to be.

Rev. King said during his speech at Riverside church in New York City
in 1967.

“I speak for the suffering, the helpless and the outcast children. We
( ministers, Christians) are called to speak for the weak, the
voiceless, those called enemies.”

Now many of my gay Christian friends would not consider themselves,
weak or helpless.

We know and recognize that we are all God’s children. We are loved.
We are not mistakes. And because we have been battered and bruised by
those calling themselves Christian and still found our way to love
and follow Christ, we do all that we can to lift up those who have
been hammered by the church’s teachings. By the church’s silence.

But there are many of us out here who are outcast, who have been
called enemy, abomination and they believe it. They take it to heart.
Some take it to an early grave.

That is why my work with churches and the “Gay Christian? Yes!”
campaign is crucial. We want to change the climate of West Michigan
and beyond, making this a safe and welcoming community for the lesbian,
bisexual, gay and transgender community by encouraging vocal and
visible gay Christians and allies..

We want church representatives to join us and help us spread the word
that yes, you can be gay and Christian.

- We want you to tell us what it means for you to be part of an open
and affirming congregation.

- We want you to sign up to mentor churches that want to undergo the
process to become open and affirming.

- We want you to help us raise money for the 2012 billboard campaign
stating “Gay Christian? Yes!"

-We want you to send two members from your congregation and encourage
friends in other congregations to join us as we create a cadre of
volunteers of writers, speakers, prayers, financial supporters,
marketers, web designers to help with the programming, the resources
and the curriculum that will come out of this movement.

-We want you to bring us your ideas on how we can support each other.

- We would like to have at least one church represented from every
denomination in West Michigan so that a gay person can find a place to
be who they are as God made them.

We know that not everyone can find an open and affirming congregation
or they work in a non-affirming place and they feel like pebbles in a

You can get overwhelmed pretty quickly when you’re the only one, but
when joined by other rocks,... I call us God Rocks in the Stream, or

We can make a difference. So on the last Wednesday of the month,
starting 7 p.m. Jan. 26 in the basement of the First Place Building of
the United Methodist Church, 207 East Fulton, we have our first
support group for adult gay Christians and allies.

It’s a place to come and be heard, to listen, to vent, to feel the
spiritual and emotional support of other gay Christians and allies.

Additional dreams for the year include:
-A prayer service on National
Coming Out Day.

-Forty (40) days of writings and prayers to be posted on our website during
advent from local gay christians and allies

- A Voices campaign featuring video stories of how you found your
congregation as a gay christian and the difference it has made in your

-Affirming sermons from area clergy.

And we would love to have your ideas as we build coalitions.

During the last year of his life, the Rev. King called for a “radical
revolution of values.” He wanted us to move from a thing to a
person-oriented society. He said that “a nation that spends more on
the military than social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

He asked for a call for “an embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the power of love. His
vision, his dream for this world was all about love and justice.

As we celebrate and recognize his birthday, may we remember the power
of love, of justice and of the importance of making this a reality
for ALL God’s children.