Thursday, March 21, 2013

Karen Stevens: Out Loud At Last!

Church of the Good Samaritan: Corvallis, OR
The Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan sits on a corner in Corvallis, a college town in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The big night is finally here. We have just finished a potluck that ended with lemon bars to die for. The room is pleasingly full. Tonight’s program features a panel discussion focusing on LGBT issues of inclusion and exclusion with an emphasis on how to be more welcoming.

At a long table up front, the panel members are ready. Our moderator, Andy McQuery, a gifted communicator and the Integrity USA Diocesan Organizer for Oregon, looks forward to hosting the evening’s talk show. Our youngest panel member is a twenty-three year old lesbian college student and judo champion who works with our youth group. Having come out only three years ago, she regales us with anecdotes, some humorous, some heart-wrenching of what it’s like to live out her authentic identity amidst tensions at home and on campus. Another parishioner sits next to her, a shy but articulate gay man of middle age, a psychotherapist. Finally we have a sister-brother team who serve as co-leaders of PFLAG Corvallis/Albany and are the mother and uncle of a young lesbian woman.

Diocesan Organizer Andy McQuery and
VP for Local Affairs Matt Haines
This panel discussion culminates a lengthy but rewarding process that began when Integrity offered a Believe Out Loud workshop led by (Integrity VP for Local Affairs) Matt Haines and Andy McQuery at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland during the summer of 2010. These two put together an inspirational and motivating program that equipped participants to be agents of change in their own parishes. With my spiral bound BOL Toolkit in the seat beside me, I drove back to Corvallis thinking that within six months we would work through the necessary steps. Before long, the BOL icon, the cross nestled in a rainbow, would grace our web page. It was not to be, at least not so soon.

Generally speaking, Good Samaritan parishioners show kindness and compassion. A few, even then, were already LGBT allies. Many, though well meaning and vaguely supportive, were unfamiliar with the need to be specifically welcoming, so we held forums, assembled a Task Force, and wrote a welcoming statement, as the Toolkit advised. The Vestry encouraged our efforts, and they wanted the Task Force to include the congregation in all the steps. Andy and Matt generously came when needed. Our bishop, the Right Rev. Michael Joseph Hanley, found time in his busy schedule to give the Vestry a pep talk. Our priest, the Rev. Simon Justice, made clear in sermons, newsletters, and comments the importance of LGBT inclusion. In November 2012, the Vestry voted to become a Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregation. We shouted 'Hooray!' but it wasn’t real until the night of the panel discussion.

Karen Stevens
Members of the Good Samaritan parish family listened intently for more than an hour to challenges LGBT Christians face in the 21st century. They heard real life stories of men and women they sit next to in church. When Andy presented our BOL certificate to Fr. Simon, the audience applauded with enthusiasm! Now our BOL certificate hangs proudly outside the office door in the foyer where everyone can see it. On the web page, we prominently display our specific welcoming statement and the BOL logo. There’s still more do, but now we intentionally believe OUT LOUD!


Karen Stevens is a parishioner at the Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis, Diocese of Oregon.

No comments: