Each autumn, Parity celebrates a few folks who embody the reconciliation of identity and faith. Many have been pastors. Some of have been public servants. All have been leaders in the struggle for justice. This year we’re honoring the Revs. Janet Edwards and Ann Kansfield, two women who are faithful servants indeed.
Janet’s trials in the church, for officiating same-sex marriages before her denomination allowed them, forced the church to deal with its hypocrisy. Ann’s recent appointment as the first woman and LGBTQ person to become a chaplain of the Fire Department of New York City has expanded the public’s imagination of whom God calls to ministry.
But next week we’ll have a first. I’ll have the honor of presenting an Emerging Leader Award to Mariaisabel Zweig, a youth who doesn’t identity as a person of faith. As an organization rooted in Christianity, this might seem like a strange choice.
When I told our Board of Directors of Mariaisabel—from her background as a cantor in the Catholic church, to her work to secure gender-neutral bathrooms at her college, to her hours spent as a volunteer with LGBTQ adults requiring mental health services—it seemed like the most natural choice of all to honor her as an emerging leader.
We are celebrating Mariaisabel precisely because of the complexities she brings to the table. Mariaisabel’s involvement in Parity’s youth program—from that initial workshop to now helping us produce our first podcast, “Queer Amen,” which will share the voices and stories of young LGBTQ people wrestling with faith—is a testament to the difficult, long-term vision of our ministry.
Reconciliation does not always mean returning to a church. Reconciliation is not as simple as walking into a congregation with a rainbow flag. It is painful to acknowledge that some LGBTQ folks will never be able to be in a church again without thinking of all the dangerous condemnation that Christians have placed upon them.
Parity has a specific mission, to provide open, healing spaces where queer people can reconcile identity and faith and our ministry grows with the support and partnership of those very congregations precisely because we are a gateway. Parity is a refuge for folks who want to reengage the faith from which they come, the traditions that hurt them and left them wounded.
The worth and impact of our ministry is unique and powerful whether or not the young people with whom we work identify as persons of faith. Maybe they aren’t ready to return to church and maybe they never will, but I pray they know us as hospitality and grace on their road to reconciliation.
I will always be grateful that Mariaisabel, especially if she never identifies as a person of faith again, was able to have space with us to process and learn alongside us what reconciliation can mean for each LGBTQ person. We are excited to honor her because of her authenticity, vulnerability, and willingness to stay engaged in the conversation.
Mariaisabel is a testament to the Holy Spirit’s work in the world and exhibits qualities every person of faith should learn from.
I hope you’ll join us next Thursday and meet her.