Who knew queer anabaptists had such great stories. When I was sitting on the South Shore Line on my way to the BMC retreat I had no idea what to expect from the weekend.
“The BMC”, as it is commonly called, is short for The Brethren Council on Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Interests. I know the name is long and very forgettable but the people who are part of the BMC definitely aren’t . This year the BMC celebrated 35 years of fierceness and fabulousness. That’s nine years longer than I’ve been alive. Some of the people I met this weekend were advocating for LGBT inclusion before I knew I was gay and even before I was born. For over three decades these people’s voices have been silenced by both Mennonite and Brethren denominations and yet they keep working, keep advocating, and most surprisingly they keep laughing.
The laughing part is what most surprised me; these people have some painful stories to tell but they also have some absolutely hysterical ones. Everyone had stories to tell and so many of these stories resulted in hearty laughter. Whether it’s an awkward coming out story or taking a family picture in plain drag, these queer folk have some amazing stories.
The weekend started off with the basic meet and greet and then went into hearing a little about the organization for us newcomers. Saturday morning we had workshops on some of the issues that affect LGBT folk. Saturday afternoon we had a great time just hanging out and getting to know each other. I was able to meet so many amazing people and there were many women and men there that a young person just coming out could learn from. I know this is a common observation but I was struck by how normal and typical some of the couples were. Couples who met at church or church retreats, a couple who had been together for decades and had 5 kids! I know these things should not surprise me but it has taken me awhile to reorient my thinking of what it means to be queer having grown up in a conservative home and struggling for so long to reconcile my identity with my faith.
But the best part came Saturday evening when we had story time followed by more story time around a camp fire. Wow! Fantastic endless laughter- I couldn’t begin to relate these stories in any way that would do justice to them so just know if you’ve never hung out with queer anabaptists and heard their stories, well, you haven’t lived. As hard as it is for me to know that we are excluded from so many anabaptist congregations I realized this weekend it’s the people who are doing the excluding that are really missing out.
On Sunday morning we had a good old-fashioned hymn sing (with plenty of tenors and altos), a sermon and communion. We meditated on the parable of the the salt and light and lit candles for those who had gone before us, both queer and straight-ally anabaptists, who started the work of making our denominations and churches more welcoming places. I’ve realized how fortunate I am to be a gay anabaptist today and how much I owe to thos who have been working for inclusion these past three decades. I know I am a crazy optimist but I’m sure that I will see the work of those anabaptists come to fruition soon and I’m so thankful for the work they’ve done to make many of our churches more welcoming places.
Of all the stories this group of people has to tell I believe the most compelling one is to be filled with joy in the face of adversity and to keep telling your story over and over to anyone who will listen. I’m reminded of the story in Romans about the Jerusalem council when the in crowd of Jewish christians was trying to keep the gentile christians out of their congregations. Finally after a long debate Peter told stories of the work the Holy Spirit had been doing among the gentiles and the in crowd fell silent.
So I will keep telling stories of the work the holy spirit is doing in my life and the lives of my queer sisters and brothers, praying that one day the in crowd will fall silent and together we can come out and be the kind of queer church we were meant to be.