Re-entering Community

27485106_10212796418358458_1291263742_oHi, my name is Leo Bancroft, and I am the President of our local ReconcilingWorks chapter and the intern Pastor at The Flame, an LGBTQ and ally ministry here in Portland.

I find it so powerful that the Scripture reading for today (well, I guess it’s not that much of a coincidence, we picked it….) 🙂  but anyway,  it is of the Ethiopian Eunuch, a sexual minority and outsider in the church, but trusted leader in other communities, who longed to know God and advocated for himself with Philip, asking to be baptized.

I’m remembering my own story of my renaming service at St. Andrew Lutheran.  I had been in the church all my life growing up as a young woman, blessed by knowing many strong women pastors, and other wonderful and loving folks in church who accepted me.  But I didn’t know that I am a trans guy.  I didn’t find that out until five years ago this March when I was 37.  So for most of my life, I don’t share the experience of the Eunuch.  I hadn’t experienced the life of a minority, though I had plenty of my own experiences of being an outsider, especially in relating to my own body.

But then I came out, and suddenly I was on uncertain ground, not knowing how God felt about me, whether the church, my family, my friends would accept me. I was afraid of getting beaten up.  This new world completely terrified me, and I spent many nights crying myself to sleep and apologizing to God.  Thankfully I had help understanding that I am beloved, and beautifully and wonderfully made, just as I am.

Two things really helped me. 1) my home church, St. Andrew, had voted already to openly welcome and affirm LGBTQ folks (that is, they became RIC), and 2) I had been involved with ReconcilingWorks and had learned language and concepts to explain what it means that I am trans, and that God celebrates this amazing diversity.  I still do these trainings today and did two this month – shout out to St. James brought me in to train, who understands that even though they have been RIC for 27 years, the journey of welcome and education is ongoing.

Anyway –I was still really afraid, and skipped church a lot because I didn’t know if I would be judged.  I resigned as the President of the congregation.  I knew we were welcoming, but didn’t believe it in my bones.  I was too scared to be a part of the community but I also really wanted to be back in the church and the family of God.  The Eunuch would have been barred by religious laws from entering the temple, and I almost let my fear keep me out.

I heard that a trans guy in Colorado, [Asher O’Callaghan], also Lutheran, had done a naming service, a public blessing of his new name and identity as a trans person. I asked my pastors if we could do one for me at St. Andrew. They agreed, and though I was terrified, I rallied my forces, and brought a bunch of friends for my gay posse backup, and we showed up on the day my naming liturgy was going to be a short part of the service, and filled the back two pews.

After the hymn of the day, we went up to the font, where I was renamed, reclaimed, re-affirmed. It was a powerful experience and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end as Pastor Mark put the sign of the cross on my head and said ” Leo, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Bear your new name in the Name of Christ. Share it in the name of mercy. Offer it in the name of justice. Christ is among us making peace right here right now.”

That moment brought be back into the church, and restored me. And far from leaving the church, a few years later, I started a church with a bunch of wonderful folks, some of whom are here, and I hope to be ordained as Pastor Leo on July 14th of this year.  Whoa.  I hope the Ethiopian Eunuch from our scripture had as affirming an experience, and great adventure after his baptism.

My prayer is that each of you finds the strength and the courage to overcome the barriers that may be keeping you outside the doors, or away from the font and table.  May each of you find reminders that you are named, beloved, and claimed as God’s own. Maybe that reminder comes tonight.  May you each have affirming experiences and great adventures.  And may we all rejoice in the good news of God’s abundantly exuberant, wildly reckless love for all.

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