On December 31, 2012 my partner, Teresa, died after a 7 year battle with ovarian cancer. Throughout this journey, members of St. Timothy ELCA in Hendersonville, TN were most supportive. Pastor Lewis was extraordinary in his compassion and companionship. But the most amazing part, that while a few suspected that Teresa and I were more than friends, most did not.
Teresa was raised in the Church of Christ. She had it drilled into her that homosexuality is a sin. She heard family and church members talk about queers, the snide remarks, the bad jokes, the disgust. This stayed with her throughout her life. Although she could not deny herself that love that all of us seek, it was a love that she shared with few. She would not even share it with our pastor, one of the most liberal pastors I have ever met. I loved her and I really, really liked her and I respected her closet. I respected that closet until a year before her death. I knew that I would need folks to know that Teresa was my partner for them to fully understand the depths of my grief. I came out to Pastor Lewis. And Teresa died never having shared with her family and many of her friends something/someone so important in her life –me and our love for each other.
After Teresa’s death, Pastor Lewis told me about the Reconciling in Christ program. And he sent me to a Building an Inclusive Church workshop in San Antonio, TX. I was fortunate that pastor saw a way for me to productively channel my grief.
No one’s child should learn to hate others or themselves – especially not from a church. It breaks my heart that Teresa did not feel safe in sharing the love that we had for each other with our church family not even our pastor. How terrible to have received such a wonderful gift and not feel safe to share it. How sad to be so afraid of rejection by not only her family by blood but also her family in faith because she loved and was loved.
From that love comes my dedication to this cause of helping my church to be Reconciled in Christ. It was said when our RIC process was first beginning – “We already have a welcoming statement that welcomes everyone.” And I say but Teresa did not know you meant her. After a lifetime of learned fear, Teresa did not realize you meant her. This is why we need the Reconciling in Christ program. We want, no, we NEED, churches to stand up and say, “All are truly welcomed and loved regardless of gender identity, regardless of politics, regardless of race, regardless of who loves you and who you love.”