My uncle wanted to make chicken and dumplings. A simple enough task. As I watched him slowly write out the grocery list in his precise architect’s script, however, I knew completing that task would take much of the day’s energy. Recovering from spinal meningitis decades into his fight with HIV/Aids simple tasks were no longer easy. I sadly mulled this over as I drove to the store with his list. At which point, as always, my uncle made me smile. His meticulous list was arranged to the specific floor plan of the store. Pity ain’t gonna stick to that.
I get a chance to visit my uncle whenever I go to see my mother’s family. It is one of those larger rural towns; it has numerous traffic lights. It is big enough that as only a sometime resident I get lost even though everywhere I look I see a familiar sight from my childhood. This odd feeling of being familiar with your surroundings but at the same time lost is not unlike what I often feel as a part of the younger generation of gay men. I was an infant during the HIV/Aids crisis; I didn’t experience it. What I do experience is the vacuum it left behind, a generation gone leaving the next with only parts of a legacy.
This is one of the great blessings my uncle has been able to give, a direct link to this lost legacy. A great part of this has been hearing his faith journey.
When I was young and visiting my grandparents they took me to the same church they had taken my uncle when he was my age. It was my first encounter with fire and brimstone preaching. Thirty minutes was about the edge of my adolescent Episcopal ability to sit through any sermon, so once I slipped out of church at this half way mark. Only to be found by the pastor’s wife who quickly informed me that my inability to listen to God’s word proclaimed by her husband was a sign of my depravity and lack of faith. I cannot imagine what growing up in that church as a gay teen must have been like. I always thought that my uncle was thoroughly dechurched. I was wrong.
A few years ago my uncle became a confirmed Episcopalian. My memory is of him explaining that it was not a sudden decision, but one he had known for a long time. He talked about Integrity, not in any great way but by the simple fact that Integrity existed. That it had actual purchase in our church’s polity and this meant that the Episcopal Church was a place where he could worship God with his full self. Decades of the Episcopal Church being in the background had made it the place he knew he would go when he was ready once again to enter into a churched relationship with God.
Ben Garren is a cradle Episcopalian and a member at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke's, Portland, Maine. He works with homeless women at a low barrier shelter in Portland.