Layton Williams, one of the future pastors at our LGBTQ Inquirers and Candidates Retreat last July, reflects on her experience and gratitude for all who make our work with these wonderful people possible. When I was a kid, my church was my home. I had a relatively tumultuous childhood, impacted by divorce, blended family, multiple homes, and conflict. In the face of that tumult, it was my church that welcomed me and offered me security, belonging, and embrace.
When I came out as queer two years ago, my understanding and reliance on church as home was pulled out from under me. Suddenly the institution and community that had nurtured me, comforted me, and held me steady in the chaos of life had become unsafe, even threatening. There were so many voices from within the church telling me that I could not be what I was—what God created me to be. Worse, there were even more voices saying that as long as I identified as queer, I could not pursue the call to ministry that my church had nurtured and affirmed within me for so many years.
Finding the Presbyterian Welcome community in the midst of that lonely and difficult place was a blessing. My first year at the retreat felt like stumbling upon a secret refuge. Over that weekend, we sang our familiar hymns, spoke our familiar liturgies, and told stories about what the church meant to us. We gave each other communion and claimed our call to ministry. We created our own space, and our own home away from home.
Still, it was hard to leave that community and continue the difficult work of finding space, as a queer person, within the larger church. By the time this year’s retreat came around, I was feeling lost and perhaps a little hopeless. I wasn’t sure if I could keep fighting for a church that still wasn’t sure if it wanted me. But then I went to the retreat, and something amazing happened.
I was embraced by friends, new and old, and my hope was rekindled. We talked about issues of privilege and learned about styles of leadership and how they can work together. In small groups we shared our stories of call and talked about the specific types of ministry we wanted to engage in. It was so clear to me that this was a community full of people called to ministry, and in recognizing that, my own sense of call to be a part of that work was reaffirmed too.
As in years past, we sang, we laughed, we cried, we worshipped, but something about this year was different. During Friday night’s worship, it hit me. When the time came for communion, the sacrament was presided over by a friend, colleague, and mentor who had been ordained just a few weeks earlier. Last year, we were a room full of hopeful people, for whom ordination was some future goal. By this year’s retreat there were a number within our community who had either already been ordained or would be in the near future. Watching Sally say the Words of Institution and break the bread, I wept. We were not a group simply acting like we would become ministers, it was actually happening. Our community was not, I realized, about creating a new home for ourselves, but about walking together and supporting one another on the journey to return home to the church we’re called to serve.
This year I served on the fundraising committee. It was challenging but incredibly inspiring work because I got to know just how many people and churches and congregations there are out there who support us and our place in church leadership. All weekend long I could feel their presence, surrounding us, uplifting us, and standing ready with open arms to welcome us home. It seems to me that that is so much of what church is about. It’s work that I feel called to be a part of myself and work that I’m grateful so many others are doing too.
This is holy work: this welcoming home. This is holy work--yours, mine, and ours--and there is so much of it to do. Thanks be to God.