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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.

Prayer for Transgender Day of Remembrance

Many Candles

Photo Credit: Blaine Covert

God of love, you weep with us in our grief and fear. Enfold in your loving embrace all those in our trans community lost to death this year. You know their names, Divine Creator, even when they are misnamed or misgendered as a last act of violence and erasure. You see each one as beloved, and call them by their chosen name. You claim them as your children.

God of peace, give comfort to those who mourn. Give courage to our trans communities in the face of cruelty and harassment. Bring to justice those who perpetrate this violence.

Challenge us, O Holy One, to speak out for those who are silenced, to stand with those who are bullied, and to go with those who face danger.

God of wonder, you are beyond gender. You made each of us in your image. Be with us today and always as we long for a day when every individual is safe and known and honored.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, who brings us all together in one human family.

Amen.

Prayer by Leo Bancroft, Reconciling Works

An Apocalyptic Sunday

Rainbow curtain at night
Photo credit: L A K

On Sunday, November 13th, we gathered in a home for our church service. As LGBTQ people and allies, we were all facing various levels and stages of grief and fear over the recent election.  As is our practice at The Flame, we read the gospel assigned to most mainline protestant churches for the day, as well as two other readings. Each week we ensure one or both additional readings comes from a person of color and an LGBTQIA person.

After opening with our welcome statement, and doing a few rounds of ice breaker questions and conversation, J read our first reading from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Our second reading contained two quotes from Audre Lorde, “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” in Sister Outsider.  K read:

When I live through pain without recognizing it, self-consciously, I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it. I condemn myself to reliving that pain over and over and over whenever something close triggers it. And that is suffering, a seemingly inescapable cycle.

I can afford to look at myself directly, risk the pain of experiencing who I am not, and learn to savor the sweetness of who I am.

L read our gospel, as written in The Inclusive Bible, Luke 21:5-19

Some disciples were speaking of how the Temple was adorned with precious stones and votive offerings. Jesus said, “You see all these things? The day will come when one stone won’t be left on top of another – everything will be torn down.”

They asked, “When will this happen, Rabbi? And what will be the sign that it’s about to happen?”

Jesus said, “Take care not to be misled. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the One’ and ‘The time is at hand.’ Don’t follow them. And don’t be perturbed when you hear of wars and insurrections.  These things must happen first, but the end doesn’t follow immediately.”

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and empire against empire. There will be great earthquakes, plagues and famines in various places – and in the sky there will be frightening omens and great signs. But before any of this, they will arrest you and persecute you, bringing you to trial before rulers and governors. And it will all be because of my name – this will be your opportunity to give your testimony. So make up your minds not to worry about your defense beforehand, for I’ll give you the words, and a wisdom that none of your adversaries can take exception or contradict. You’ll be betrayed by even your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends, and some of you will be put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, yet not a hair of your head will be harmed. By patient endurance, you’ll save your lives.”

After the readings, we had time for silent meditation, and I shared a few thoughts before we discussed them in pairs and then all together.  Here was my reflection:

At first I was torqued off that this is the assigned gospel for this week.  It seemed unfair to have to read a passage that is so scary and gloomy at a time when we are already shaken.  But on reflection, I decided I was ok with it. It felt more real than a reassuring text that everything was sunshine and roses, when I look around and it feels like the world has gone to shit.

This gospel passage is considered “apocalyptic”, meaning it uses this frightening imagery to assure us of God’s faithfulness in horrible times.  These are not predictions of what is to come, but rather descriptions of what has already happened, and the way things are.  The temple written about was already destroyed at the time these verses were written.  This is a very real description of things that happen in our world, especially for marginalized communities.

These passage address that, much as I would like, God doesn’t come in and fix it all, at least not right now, but God is with us, and provides strength, courage, comfort and wisdom.

I chose the other two readings in light of this fact of brokenness in our world, and our need to carry on and “testify before our oppressors”, as the gospel tells us we have an opportunity to do.  The other day I was at the Interfaith Call for Inclusion. It was a gathering held in Pioneer Square for faith leaders to stand with the various communities that are being targeted by the divisive and hateful rhetoric of our times.  We were called and challenged to be love, resistance, and compassion, speaking the truth of God’s Beloved Community against the voices that would oppress and divide us.  We were reminded that there is no retirement for those working for justice.  Our work is not yet done.

Where in the brokenness of this world does the light get in? As we reflect on Leonard Cohen’s writing, how do we start again, and find slivers of grace, joy, and love in the midst of lament?

As we re-read the Audre Lorde quotes, how can we own our own  pain, acknowledge and grieve it, and then rejoice in the gift of our authentic selves as we are embraced by and build the Beloved Community of God?  Let us also be mindful that Lorde was writing about racism, particularly in the feminist movement. I don’t want to co-opt her wisdom and strength without reminding ourselves of this racism she was reflecting on, and our role and responsibility in dismantling it.

Luke’s gospel passage is intended to be a passage of hope, and an encouragement to stay the course. It reminds us that God is with us no matter what, even in the scariest of times. I am so grateful for this reminder, and the wisdom of Cohen and Lorde.  But I do wonder if Jesus needed a better speech writer.

In peace,

Leo Bancroft
Vicar, The Flame

Room For Everyone

On September 11th, we met for our sixth gathering as the group now called “The Flame”. After lighting a candle, we began with the opening that reminds us that everyone is welcome.  It seemed particularly appropriate for this gathering based on the readings we discussed that night.

As a new group, our time together is starting to develop a rhythm. After some ice-breakers and check-ins, we have conversations around the gospel text for the day  (from the revised common lectionary). We add other readings too, seeking to incorporate other voices and poetry, particularly from the experiences of the LGBTQIA community and people of color. Continue reading Room For Everyone

A Start-Up Church?

On our home page, we describe that The Flame is a start-up church and alternative worshiping community.  So just what do we mean?

The Lutherans in Oregon recognized that, even though many churches are welcoming to the LGBTQIA community and church policies are changing to be more affirming, many of us are not interested or comfortable in “traditional churches”.  In order to provide LGBTQIA folks a supportive environment for building community and finding spiritual healing, this group was started. Continue reading A Start-Up Church?