“Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end…And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last, you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” – Audre Lord
As two weeks of UCC Synod ends, it is bittersweet.
As I began planning and working, along with other staff and Coalition board members to get a 15-minute plenary session, a workshop, a resolution, and an optional event ready months ago, I had every expectation that this was the beginning of a shift toward the future of the Coalition and the continuation of a long working journey we would undertake together. Indeed, planning was fully with that intention and expectation. As the video played during the celebratory section of Synod, a video that had over a hundred hours of my artistic and creative blood poured into it, I found I could not stop my tears or bitter grief.
This was my last event where I contribute to the ONA movement within the UCC. It was absolutely the right decision for me to walk away to center my physical and mental wellness, because boundaries that allow us to thrive are critical elements of survival. In the end, I leave as others have sometimes left knowing that work I was called to do is undone, but in full awareness that I could not fix alone, and trying to do too much has left trauma in my body.
In his second letter to the church leaders in Corinth, Paul writes, “I know I distressed you greatly with my letter. Although I felt awful at the time, I don’t feel at all bad now that I see how it turned out. The letter upset you, but only for a while. Now I’m glad—not that you were upset, but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss.” (2 Corinthians 7: 11- 13, The Message translation)
When confronted with brokenness, Paul could have remained silent in order to preserve the status quo and the false impressions of wellness, but instead he confronts the leaders with their brokenness and challenges them to fix it, to heal that which they damaged. I cannot equate my experiences with those of Paul or the church in Corinth, but I also know I reached the point when my continued silence – even if it preserved friendships and relationships I cherished – was breaking me. Because the truth of broken-ness is that sometimes it falls to a single person to bear the weight of the grief that comes through broken places or at least to feel as if they are all alone with that burden. Structural broken-ness left unchecked and unresolved breaks people. This can happen without malice, but simply through complacency and over-busyness.
I leave the Coalition, as a person who shared my childhood and youth experiences of trauma in the church to pass a Synod resolution and create new spaces of hope for youth and young adults who were like me. I leave the Coalition feeling like the UCC has no more space or place for me or my ministry than the denomination of my childhood and early adulthood that ejected and rejected me for being queer.
Six years ago, I stood up in front of my UCC congregation and told them I was called to the ministry. Since then, I have helped plan three UCC Synod events, three Coalition National Gatherings, and presented to hundreds of individuals and churches on behalf of this organization. I have thought I was on the path God had illuminated through prayerful discernment. I have made mistakes, thinking I was in a space that welcomed people and their imperfect selves, only to be kicked out and ejected once again. I walk away now as a person trusted by my denomination to teach, pray and minister to churches and people, but also as a person not welcomed or accepted into ordination. When we have decided that resiliency means picking up the shards of ourselves that were broken through systemic broken-ness and walking away, it can still feel a lot like failure.
The United Church of Christ did a fantastic job of thanking those who fight to change and transform the world. I celebrate each of those accomplishments. But I walk away from this Synod and the work God called me to do within and alongside this denomination feeling more harmed and rejected by Church than I ever have, even in the most conservative of denominations. The celebrations are one side of the truth of the UCC, but the hurt is also a truth - even if few want to address it.
I have to wonder what space the UCC holds for those who challenge or name the broken places? Would the UCC (or the Coalition) have heard Paul and been willing to listen?
Sometimes justice means hearing from those harmed in order to bring us all back to doing the work God has called and commanded us to take on and take up together.
Sometimes transformation and growth in the Spirit can only come when we throw open the doors wider to see and to seek to heal what is broken even if that starts with admitting we have failed and need to do/be better.
As humans and as part of human organizations, we each wrong and are wronged. But counter to the old saying, our mistakes - errors- do not make us human. Instead, our humanity comes through our ability to help heal others who have been harmed through those mistakes.
Divine Creator of Healing and Wholeness, May my distress and grief, and the distress of others who have also felt rejected unheard and unseen, be enough to goad change where changes and healing are needed. Amen.