Where Do I Go?

by Zach Spoerl

I was sitting in Rev. Vance Rains’ office at the Florida State Wesley Foundation the first time I said the words “I’m gay” out loud to any other living human. I specify because of the countless memories I have of telling people in dreams, and also prayerfully informing my deceased grandmother, who I firmly believe would have come around after a few tears and boxes of See’s candies.

I really can’t remember all of that conversation, mainly because I was individually bottling up the million fears I’d dreamt this confession would bring to fruition, and then sending them actually pouring out of my sweat glands.

However, I distinctly remember how light I felt walking out those cheap white doors.

Vance hadn’t said anything incredibly shocking or profound—in fact, he firmly stated that I would probably come to understand much more about this topic than he ever would, even after exercising his voracious appetite for books that he is so known and respected for. What I did hear, however, was that I was wanted. That I could be openly gay and still serve the church, be mentored and developed, known and loved, without a mandatory and prior change of my sexuality. In fact, I was encouraged to be honest about myself while first and foremost, finding my identity in Christ.

So many have felt pushed away from the church because of their orientation, yet I was able to flourish there. We even started a secret group made of individuals—some who clearly identified as gay/lesbian, some inquiring, and some feeling pulled in every direction of the spectrum—all struggling with the age-old question of “can I be something other than 100% heterosexual and still follow Christ, still find a place in the church?”

The secrecy was necessary as most of us were, at that time, literally shaking in our chairs as we silently freaked out concerning the conversations we were having out loud about being gay, or at least that’s how I was feeling. I truly believe honesty brings us closer to God, and to people. I remember that time period with an incredible sense of energy.

For me, those memories literally vibrate with the freshness and zeal for life brought about by being sincerely who you are after 19 years of hiding it.

Growing up in a conservative Christian home, I was very insistent that I remain open to hearing God pulling me in either direction concerning the spiritual legality of my sexuality, as I had only ever heard the negative and traditional interpretations of the scripture, and therefore did not want to abandon what most of my childhood community firmly believed in the pursuit of simply following my feelings. However, after more earnest prayer, vulnerable conversations, and Youtubing sermons on homosexuality as described through verses in the Bible than you can possibly imagine, I have come to a very different place of belief than in my uneducated youth.

Within the church, we offer the hope of real change brought about by the power of Jesus’ available and Holy Spirit. For example, those Christians who are caught up in lying, we encourage to pursue truth; those struggling with lust, purity; drunkenness, sobriety, and so on and so forth, each with practical ways to change toward the opposing and good characteristics of Jesus. However, when it comes to homosexuality, what hope do we have to offer anyone who is questioning, those who have prayed since preschool that God would remove this incredibly intimate part of their personhood?

The usual offer typically consists of prayer and/or therapy, both with the hoped end result of heterosexuality.

If there were lines of people coming into our churches exclaiming the miracle of change from one spectrum of sexuality to the other this wouldn’t be as large of a question, but in all of my experiences this has never been the case.

And this leads me to my present situation. As a young Christian man affirmed, gifted, and excited for ministry, will I be turned away from the Methodist church? It’s kind to say “let’s be open and accepting and loving,” until you want to be a leader, until you want to get married, until you feel the call to pastor a church. At what point does being gay strip me of the opportunity to fully exercise the gifts and charisms graced to me?

We serve a God of stability, yet one who changes in God’s interactions with us—one of infinite mystery. God lives with us in a garden, floods our home, calls a people to be bound to God, leads them by fire, incites the birth of a Messiah, asks us to have faith that God is close, that Heaven is coming.

There is so much to know of God.

People have asked me why I look so hard into this seemingly never ending argument, why I can’t just read the Scripture plainly and take it for what, at first glance, it seems to say. I feel a call to lead in the church. I have the desire to guide others and encourage the church. I have been given the gifts necessary to do these things, but within the Methodist church, I am held back. Why is it so crazy to believe that a God who has moved so mysteriously and drastically in the past is calling the church to live in community and hear God’s voice together, and that God’s voice may be calling the church in a new direction?

I’m now attempting to navigate the seemingly treacherous waters that surround any gay person hoping to work in the Methodist church. For the majority of my heterosexual peers, the next steps are pretty straight forward (insomuch as a call to ministry can be)—an internship, on to funded seminary with the promise of returned years of service, and a secure job placement fitting with your gifts and passions upon graduation.

It seems to be an incredibly peaceful and well thought out process.

But where do I go? Do I chance taking out loans to go to a Methodist seminary with the risk of never being fully ordained? Do I move on to a more open denomination where it seems my ministry would be more fruitful and unhindered? They who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. May we continue to pray, listen, and discern what the Spirit has to say for those in my position.

Do we stay, or do we move on and take our gifts elsewhere?

Originally published on Reconciling Ministries Network

Comments (3)

Roberta Goodman

As a United Methodist pastor
As a United Methodist pastor and PFLAG mom, I read this with such tears of understanding and anguished prayers

Rev. Al Schon

As a gay man who once was
As a gay man who once was Methodist and attended a Reconciling congregation, but left because of the increasingly hostile attitude of some church leaders and members, I can only say follow wherever God leads you. You can certainly find a place in the United Church of Christ where we have been ordaining LGBT for decades. You can also stay with the Methodists to fight for change, knowing that you will run up against many obstacles. Wherever you go, know that God walks with you and loves you just as much as all of God’s other children. Find peace, my friend.


Ha! One of the few situations
Ha! One of the few situations in life where I can honestly console someone with, “I know what it’s like”.

I’ve been in the Candidacy process for about a year now–most of that on hold by my own volition. When I got involved with the UMC, I was still squarely in the closet, after many years of practice at denying something I’ve known to be true all my life.

I still haven’t told my pastor I’m gay, yet. It’s not because I fear how he’ll react. It’s not because I’m afraid the members of my congregation will become disgusted with me (although a few will. There are always those few!). It’s because in my 2+ years with the UMC and this particular church, I’ve helped re-start a confirmation class, and co-founded a joint youth ministry between ourselves and an ELCA church.

God has blessed me with tremendous opportunities, students and parents to teach and to love, and something that I can look at and feel I’ve made a difference with.

I’m afraid to let that go.

I know that everything will continue in my absence; God could bring in a THOUSAND different people far batter-qualified than myself to see these needs better met than I ever could, and to flourish what has become such a valuable part of these students’ and families’ lives. All the same, I’m afraid of breaking something I love.

I know I don’t have a future with the UMC. I also have a strong background (and current service, in fact!) with the ELCA. I could simply make the switch and be comfortably serving among people who will accept me for who I am. I won’t have to lie to myself, or anyone else, anymore. I could continue with my plans for sem., ordination, and join the ranks of clergy I’ve come to know and admire over the years. In my case, I know it’s the right choice to make–too many prayers have convicted me of it.

But I still don’t know when, or how. I’m at the same impassé you seem to be.

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