On a sunny July day last summer, I sat cross-legged on a musty pillow in a retreat center in the Appalachian Mountains. I was at the Presbyterian Welcome Retreat for LGBTQ persons seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
We were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves, including how we identified in terms of our sexuality and gender (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning etc.). When my turn came, I stumbled over some words about my identity, but perhaps that most honest thing I could have said would have been, “terrified.”
I had been dancing around the truth of my sexuality for years.
I was afraid that if I were truly, fully honest about who I was, I would find out that I was all alone. At the time of the retreat, I had been coming out in an “official” capacity for almost a year. But even as I came to accept my love for women, I didn’t want to admit that I was also still attracted to men. I still felt trapped and afraid.
I came to the Presbyterian Welcome Retreat from that dark and fearful place. Over the course of the weekend, I heard new friends tell their stories. I envied their courage and clarity. Then, one night at worship, a new friend and mentor preached a sermon about Hannah crying out to God in the temple. The preacher spoke about the power of standing in the full truth of who we are and about what can happen when we let people really see us. Then on his cue we all stood up together.
As he told us what we were about to do, I closed my eyes for a brief moment and then, finally, I stood into the full truth of who I am. When I opened my eyes, I saw something that struck me more deeply than any fear I have ever known.
I saw other people—my sisters and brothers—standing with me.
We were all weeping and wounded from the struggle to be who we are. And I knew, finally, that I was not alone.
In that room, I learned what it feels like to be witnessed for all that you are and to be loved. I came to know what it feels like to witness and love the full truth of others.
It feels like Grace. And it looks like the Church the way that Christ created it to be: many splendored and diverse and filled with human beings who are never truly alone because we are all bound up in one another and in Christ.
Photo via Presbyterian Welcome