I work for Richmond Beach Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ. It’s the middle of my third month here, and slowly as can be I’ve been learning names and occupations and individual values and the culture of the urban/suburban Pacific Northwest, so different from my rural Kansas roots and Southern social justice education. I’ve learned some tools that help me do my job well (or better than when I began, anyway), and I’ve begun to pin down a couple of the quirks in this new denomination that has hired me and embodied their own motto: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here…”
Even if you’re Mennonite;
even if you’re not sure about joining our church;
even if we don’t know your whole heart or your whole story.
My self-understanding has always been about the story of a people: migration to Kansas, winter wheat, pacifist conviction that goes back generations, arthritic hands that are still skilled with a quilting needle and can knit cotton dishcloths. It’s beyond me to conceive of myself apart from the story, which is also about passionate discipleship and careful self-examination in the way of faith-and-life of our example, Jesus of Nazareth who some call the Christ.
For the longest time, I never knew how much of this narrative was tangled into myself. I think it’s because I found other places to glimpse the story. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of my partner, Jamie, for one instance. “No creed but Christ,” they say – the frontier version of Anabaptism as John Howard Yoder wrote in passing. Or Vanderbilt Divinity School where so many people lived out their commitment to reconciliation and social justice. Or Hobson United Methodist of Nashville, whose covenant begins like this: “We are all on a journey of discipleship, all seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.” In the absence of my Mennonite family, these places and the people in them nurtured my call.
And here I am lost, for this is not my story and these are not my people. I was hired to do a job in a church, but I was not called to serve the church. I only work 25 hours a week, so in my free time I wonder a lot about whether I am supposed to be here and if I am, I wonder how the hell I am supposed to do my job when I don’t understand so much of this world. It is but small comfort to know that things will look different in three years or ten or from the other end of my lifetime.
In the meantime, there is a blessing that runs around in my head. In his charge to our class last spring, the divinity school dean said, “May you make your home like Ruth with good people, even when they are not your people.” It struck me profoundly that this too would be my story, of changing loyalties and searching out a new home. And now, five months after graduating with my master of divinity, it is my new story every single day. Such is the life of an out, partnered, twenty-six year old lesbian Mennonite called to ministry in the church.
I’m not sure what lingering doubts Ruth carried with her, but in my free time, I knit my own cotton dishcloths, and I still wonder if I will ever return to my people.