Jane Erikson is a member of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ, the site of MLP’s National Conference this past September. Here is her reflection on the conference and a thanksgiving greeting from St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, Tucson, AZ.

When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26, my immediate response was exhilaration. Here was a giant step toward equality for my LGBTQ friends, and further evidence that justice was within our grasp.

And then, just as immediately, I remembered Don, an outgoing man who I got to know and like when I began covering health care for the Arizona Daily Star. It was 1988, still the early days of the AIDS epidemic in Tucson, and Don was one of the first people with AIDS I interviewed. We met in the spring of that year and by fall, Don’s life was coming to an end. I visited him during the hours before he died – hours in which he hoped and waited for a phone call from his parents, telling him they loved him and were sorry they rejected him for being gay.

Don never got that call.

So there I was on June 26, tears streaming down my face, but not willing to let go of the hope that – 25 years after Don’s lonely death – we were closer to the day when no one would ever again have to suffer intolerance because of their sexual identity.

As a straight woman, I feel almost uncomfortable writing those words. The marginalization of LGBTQ folks is not my personal story. And yet, as a reporter writing about AIDS, interviewing people at NIH and in San Francisco, as well as the founders of the Tucson AIDS Project and other proactive groups in my own community, I often felt I was part of the struggle. I certainly was witness to acts of love and compassion surpassing any I had seen before.

I’ll fast forward 10 years to the fall of 1998 and my decision to start attending church as a way to spend time with my aging mother, on her terms. I figured I would be bored to death. But that first Sunday at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, I fell completely in love with the co-pastors, the hymns, the reading from Job. I couldn’t wait for it to be Sunday again.

But then this little problem came up. The Presbyterian Church (USA) did not allow LGBTQ people to be ordained. “What?” I shrieked out loud to my gay friend who broke this news to me. It felt to me equivalent to posting a “Whites Only” sign in front of the church.

But then my friend told me about More Light Presbyterians, and how St. Mark’s was on record opposing the Book of Order’s discrimination against gays. OK, I thought, I won’t have to leave the church I love.

St. Mark’s became a More Light Church in 2006, and is still the only More Light Church in Southern Arizona. And in September, we hosted More Light Presbyterians’ annual conference. Two months later, the joy I felt over those three days has not faded.

I’m thankful for those of you who were willing to tell us your stories – and share your thoughts with us before you rushed off to the airport Sunday morning.

Tony Beyer

Ken Cuthbertson and Tony Beyer

For Tony Beyer, of Central Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, MO, “This weekend was a weekend of joy and outrage and, at times, fear, and at the same time I felt Grace almost every moment.”

Annanda Barclay

Ralph Carter and Annanda Barclay

Annanda Barclay, a third-year student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, named two important aspects of the conference.

“One is a renewed sense of hospitality,” Annanda said. “It’s blown my mind how hospitable St. Mark’s has been. It is something that I will take with me to my own congregation – to implement that graciousness, that radical hospitality.

“And this morning I heard a woman who has LGBTQ children talk about her experience when they came out, and her pain. She said her thinking was, ‘I know this person, how can they now feel like a stranger to me?’ And that was powerful for me to hear because as a lesbian, I am always trying to understand where my parents are coming from. And after hearing her thoughts, I was able to put myself in my parents’ shoes in a way that has humbled me and given me some Grace.”

At St. Mark’s, we still talk about the conference.

“I was delighted to have so many chances to talk with people, and to learn their stories, and feel the relief they felt at being in a church where they were recognized, and wanted,” said long-time member Lolly Almquist. “For the first time in my life I felt I could understand what it is like for people to feel they are not accepted. I never thought that being a More Light church would make such a difference, but it does – not only to those visiting us, but to us as we welcomed them with pride and love.”

May the Peace of Christ guide us as we continue our work toward becoming a more just and loving society. And to each of you, my best wishes for a joyous Thanksgiving.

Check out all the conference photos on Flickr.

(Photo at top: Rev. Mike Smith and Jane Erikson)

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