On Leaving Our Church and Entering the Wilderness of the Unknown

What a weekend. What a week. What a weird, weird world.

Wild.

Weird.

Wonky.

Wonderful, still. Probably. Probably?

But for now, OH MY WORD.

My son has been throwing up since Saturday, and, with the state of the world right now, the state of my country, and the state of my church, that feels wholly appropriate to me. Like his body has offered the only reasonable response to what’s going on. Vomit.

We thought he was getting better by Monday, but NOPE. More puke. Cherry Popsicle just everywhere. Also, he keeps pooping his pants because gauging soft poopies versus farts is VERY, VERY HARD when you’re sick. He keeps laying in bed saying, “Sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to let my poop out,” which is exactly how I feel. I’m trying, dammit, not to let my political or religious or familial poop out, but I’m not exactly sure when it’s going to slip out anyway.

In a turn of events that has taken us quite by surprise, given years of effort to stay together and stay in conversation, believing there’s room at the table for people who disagree, our broader group of churches — the umbrella organization of 60+ churches in our region called Northwest Yearly Meeting — has let us know those of us who are open and affirming of LGBTQ people must leave.

Because we belong to a church organization that operates based on consensus and not hierarchy, we didn’t see it coming. At all. In a group that purports to believe in consensus — that has the process of discernment over years if necessary written into its doctrinal statements — there was none, and there is no appeal. The decision was mandated, the process was bypassed, a “time sensitive” clause of questionable application was brought to bear, and, as a result, Greg and I and our children will be leaving the church family into which Greg was born and where we’d hoped to raise our children. Not right this minute. Not immediately. In fact, our smaller church — the one we actually attend — may stay with the larger group; it’s far too soon to tell, and they’ve made no decision yet. But within the next year and a half, we Woolseys will be leaving the Northwest Yearly Meeting and leaving behind Greg’s family, who advocated for the separation and who will, I assume, remain with the churches that have no room for us.

There are many things I don’t talk about in this space, though I’m sure, given all I do discuss, it comes as a shock I have any filters at all. Disagreements with extended family are usually one that stay on the down-low, although I assure you we have had plenty of disagreements. Some resolved. Some unresolved. Many that carry significant hurt, as I suspect is true for all families, everywhere. Now, I have a strange choice: to remain silent in an effort not to exacerbate the extended family’s pain and our own, or to speak out with the hope of alleviating the pain of those who have been made even more marginalized and vulnerable with this decision. With this type of theological purging, though, and with it the knowledge that our LGBTQ friends, an enormous number of whom are already at risk of assault and violence in the greater communityspiritual harm by church communities, and who are more likely to cause self-harm or engage suicide as a devastated response to the loss of family and community, I cannot remain silent. I cannot, from my silence, contribute to that loss and cause more harm to a people already so vulnerable. I can’t do it without it costing my soul. I won’t.

So. We will soon be without our broader church home. Our choices: adhere to a statement of human sexuality that categorizes homosexuality with incest, bestiality, pedophilia and rape, and remain with the church Greg was born into, with many people we love very much… or follow our conviction by the God whose other name is Love, and follow our best understanding of Scripture which is to welcome our beautifully and wonderfully made LGBTQ friends, to repent for the ways we’ve belittled and discriminated against them, both explicitly and insidiously, to ask for forgiveness, and to try to do and be better.

Our choice is clear. We will make our way in the wilderness of the unknown. 

It is, as my friend Paula put it, a rending.

This is a week when our country is in chaos with a ban on the world’s most vulnerable.

And a weekend when our church is in chaos with a ban on the church’s most vulnerable.

And in the midst of it, in the midst of the rending, we had one 10-year-old boy puking and his twin brother finishing, finally, after 13 months straight, Harry Potter Book 7.

I spent Saturday rushing between the puke bowl, Popsicles, Gatorade and cold wash cloths… and the child who was riveted by the ending of Harry Potter.

And, because I’m a mother, I hovered. And I worried. And I posted to Facebook, as he stayed up too late reading…

…and read into the next day.

FACEBOOK:
“Mom! You will never believe what Mrs. Weasley said to Bellatrix!

‘Not my daughter, you bitch!’
Ha! I think Mrs. Weasley is just like you, Mom.”
He has 11 pages to go. Harry Potter, Book 7.
#BeStillMyHeart #HarryPotterForever

……….

FACEBOOK:
“MOM! I love this! THERE ARE, LIKE, 100 GOOD FIGHTERS for every Deatheater!” 

He has 8 pages to go. Harry Potter, Book 7.
#ImportantReminder #InRealLifeToo #HarryPotterForever

……….

And then, he finished.

At the end of Saturday.

When our churches, apparently, finished with each other, too. The end of a long story, full of good and bad, that we’d hoped wouldn’t end.

As his brother puked, he finished Harry Potter Book 7, and I was a wreck.

HE was fine.

*I* was a mess.

I managed to ask him through my blubbering, weary and worn in more ways than one, what he thought, and he said, “It’s such a good story, Mom. SUCH A GOOD STORY. But why are you crying?”

“Oh my gosh!” I said back, “Dobby? Dumbledore? Lupin? Tonks? FRED, kid! FRED DIED. I just can’t. Twin boys, and one’s gone.”

I sat on the couch with tears streaming down my face, looking at my kid, one of my own twin boys, losing EVERY BIT OF COOL I HAD. Cool dribbling down my face.

And you know what he did? He reached out and held my hand and said, “But, Mom. You can’t lose heart during the bad parts. You need to think about the whole story. You need to think about how good wins in the end. Right, Mom? Isn’t that what it’s about?”

Oh my word, friends. Oh my word. Out of the mouths of babes. And out of the pages of Harry Potter.

You can’t lose heart during the bad parts.

You need to think about the whole story.

You need to think about how good wins in the end. And you need to do your part to make it so.

In conclusion, what a weekend. What a week. What a weird, weird world.

Wild.

Weird.

Wonky.

But wonderful, still. If you think about the whole story, anyway. And about how good wins in the end.

Sending love, friends,

 

 

 

P.S. Um… and now let’s talk about privilege. Because have you noticed how I’ve made this entire story so far about me and my family? MY sense of hurt and disenfranchisement? And Greg’s? Yes. I’ve noticed, too. I’m quite good, it turns out, at making things all about me.

My friend Elizabeth spoke my heart earlier this weekend when she wrote: “I am sad to be removed from the conversation and from the invitation to worship. I know you don’t understand this, but I actually think it is important to worship and be in community with people I disagree with. I want the opportunity to learn and grow from you. I want to get to know your kids at camp and I want to hear the Spirit speak through you in worship. I want to be witness to your gifts and challenged by your passions. But I can’t be and that is a slap in the face for this privileged middle class white lady. I suppose that is one good thing coming from this: an understanding that I never had before of what it is like to be rejected from a group of people you want to call your own. I promise I will spend the rest of my life working hard to not recreate this experience for anyone in the future.”

Our LGBTQ friends have suffered far, FAR more than what those of us who are removed from fellowship are experiencing this week. We are, in fact, SO privileged to have even been able to say phrases like “I want to be in community with people I disagree with,” because being in such a group did not come with the price of our sanity, our faith or our lives. Now we get to enter into a new kind of privilege; the privilege of experiencing, in a tiny way, the kind of disenfranchisement and marginalization our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have been experiencing for decades.

I am ashamed it has taken this long to enter your suffering, LGBTQ friends. I am grateful to get to do so now. You, of course, are the very ones who have taught and are teaching me how to be welcoming and gracious. Thank you for being Jesus to me.

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
53 comments
  1. […] hanging in there, friends, during this weird, weird season. But we’re doing it by taking one thing at a time, deciding what’s actually critical […]

  2. I’m a “B” in the LGBTQ+ family and my husband and I are doing our best to raise three boys (of 4) to be loving and welcoming to those who differ from them. Our eldest is 21 and it’s a joy to watch him so openly embrace those around him. Sadly, my husband’s family is not so welcoming. With so much going on politically these past weeks, our differences have become difficult to dodge and words of prejudice and hate have been spewed all over us. At first, I was sad because I don’t want my boys to miss out on having their extended family in their lives…but then I remembered how often those family members have told sexist and homophobic jokes, used racial slurs and belittled “libtards” in front of my beautiful boys. If they weren’t family, there is NO WAY we would accept their hate. So…my husband and I are figuring out how much exposure is acceptable for our babies.

    I guess I’m trying to say that I know what you are going through. I know how hard it is to stay on the path of Love and Light when people who are in your heart reject that path. As a Liberal, agnostic, bisexual, biracial woman, I thank you for choosing Love, Beth.

  3. LGBTQ community member here thanking you for your love and for raising five compassionate humans. There are a lot of things in life we don’t have a say in, but kindness is always something we can choose. <3

  4. […] to write a post about the February book for our Escapist Book Club, but people at my house are still barfing, and it was easier to write about Syphilis. Sorry. Here’s the February book, though, in case […]

  5. Beth, I have two young adult daughters one is gay and one is bi. And I am scared for them, because there are people out there who would literally beat them to death if they could get away with it, just because they are who they were born to be. And there are millions more who would not go that far, but who reject their existence, who would exclude them from work, church, community.

    I am so grateful for you and the example you set in embracing Love first, in radical acceptance, in living your values even when it comes at a great cost.

    Thank you for using your public presence to share your belief in Love and help make the world a little bit safer for my children, and LGBTQ people everywhere.

    1. Love to you, momrade. And solidarity.

  6. Thank you for standing for those on the margins. I was also asked to leave and I know it hurts. Praying for your heart. Jacci

  7. Thank you – the depth of your love for the church you are losing is so evident.

  8. How heartbreaking. My “larger” church cannot seem to come to terms with its LGBTQ children, either – but, for now, my local church seems to have a welcoming posture. Given that we are all made in God’s image, I can’t understand how any member of the human race would be excluded from the family of God. The good news is that your son will stop vomiting. The more frightening thing is that it is very uncertain when our political reality will stop vomiting all over us.

  9. Beth, my heart hurts for you and your family; and for those on the other side of this present divide; and especially for the youth of your YM. My husband and I were part of NPYM until we recently transferred our memberships to Monteverde Friends Meeting in Costa Rica; yet his brother and brothers family were/are from NWYM, so we know about loving people even while dancing around some topics-and how time and exposure to more living can clarify what is truly important: LOVE in the Christ Spirit. I had the privilege of attending NWYM last July. I met many wonderful people. As an “outsider” praying to be used to help hold the container for dialogue and enLIGHTenment, I saw many possibilities for healing around this issue, given more time and study of scripture from the perspective of the cultural context of the times in which the passages in question were given (cultural context helping us see more deeply what can be obscured by “plain English” of translations familiar to many of us) and more time to see how our LGBTI brothers, sisters and their families also embody God’s love. Yet I saw that some felt a need to cut off the dialogue and pain of uncertainty. So this split at this time appeared likely. We Quakers have experienced numerous other schisms in our history (as have most denominations in most of this world’s “great faiths”). Yet we have also witnessed Spirit’s work in healing our differences, even bringing us back together among our Young Friends in FWCC and rejoining some formerly divided YMs. My prayers now are for God’s healing in individual hearts, in families divided, in churches divided, in YMs divided. May all be heart-open to new learning, to continuing revelation, to enLIGHTenment as God speaks directly to us in our lives, in our hearts.

    And may you soon recover from the bodily illness affecting your family!

    Also, prayers that those of you in divided congregations may find your brethren, whether in other churches in your communities (many will be welcoming) or in creating house fellowships, even banding together into a new Christ-centered, explicitly welcoming YM for now. Intervisitation, joint activities embracing our different ways of knowing and living within the Christ-spirit within our sister YMs may with faithful listening to our Inner Teacher, allow us to unite again in the One. Blessings, Friend.

  10. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore

  11. Beth, my hope is that from the rending something new and beautiful will rise up. Tiffany and I have been discussing how we would love to return to something that is truly based on Quaker beliefs and fundamentals.

  12. I’m sorry this is happening in your community, Beth. It’s hard to let go of something you love and see potential in, too, even in brokenness.

    I echo Carol’s comment above about the ELCA, Episcopal, UCC and Unitarian traditions. I’m an ELCA Lutheran myself and we’ve been through the wringer at the local, regional and national level about this specific issue, too. We will always choose love for all of God’s children whether they are like us or not.

    I don’t know if you’re a podcasts person (I wouldn’t be if I didn’t have a commute in the car) but have you ever heard of The Liturgists? They are talking about important things from a place of deep faith, and they aren’t afraid of the hard or broken or heartbreaking stuff. They have created a community, too, that bolsters me even when I’m feeling apart from my in-person community. I thought they might bring you a place of belonging, too, in the short and/or long term.

    Praying for you and your whole community!

  13. Excellent blog. We need more people standing up for what is right.

  14. I have so much to say but honestly I’m just so tired this week that I know I won’t be able to. I’ll start with thank you. It helps so much to know I am not alone. I’ve thought often lately that I’m getting a taste of what it’s like to be a minority, to not be understood, to have people act like they are happy about things you feel are painful, to just not understand. I’m not saying this well at all.

    Yesterday I was at day one of a funeral (out of state) for my uncle. My two beloved cousins, two of my favorite people, highly intelligent are on the opposite side of the spectrum in beliefs. Mostly we never mention this. But yesterday it was broached in bits and pieces. And I’m just so hurt. I wish I wasn’t. They are not completely anti some things, and I suppose I should be glad they are not, but their support of people who are hurts me. Ad because my uncle was a retired judge, and a still prominent member of the community and Republican Party at age 86, I had to endure discussions with people gloating or complaining about current events while standing two feet away from an open casket with a dead man dressed in a bright red hunt jacket.

    I think I have to give up here. There’s no way I’m going to explain what yesterday was like.

    I’m hurting every day from the state of things.

  15. As one of your LGBT followers and a long term disavower of all things religious (not necessarily all things spiritual, although I do squint hard at it and cast the side eye at what I refer to as “woo”…)

    I am teared up right now by your choice to choose GOOD and RIGHT over church and even family.

    I know it’s horrifically difficult. I know it’s a loss. I walked this road a long time ago and it fucking HURTS. (yes, an F bomb, but it’s necessary.)

    Thank you, Beth. Thank you for your huge heart and your caring and your stories and your waves in the dark.

    We have to believe good will triumph or what’s the use?

    <3 <3 from me and mine to you and yours. Welcome to the other side. There is love and family and support here too. I promise.

    Grace

  16. Thanks for this, Beth. You and Greg and your family are in my heart. With many others.

  17. Big hugs to you. I’m an atheist so can’t put myself in your shoes in this instance, but my heart hurts for you that you’ve been put in a terribly place by standing up for social justice, and trying to do right in this crazy mixed-up world. Keep fighting the good fight, and I hope you land in a place of love when you find your new church family.

  18. I feel your pain. We too had to depart from out church and community, eventually even having to change states. It was far from an easy decision. It was hard, painful. As we talked about it we knew the pain would be sharp, but clean. Deep and yet with time it has healed as we hoped it would. We are now all stronger because of it. Be true to yourself, do not be afraid to live life that is true to you. Those who really care about you will not leave for long if they leave at all. Give it time, and sometimes a little space.

  19. Beth, you are brave. Your bravery and honest words may make others ask themselves if they are embracing their privilege and ignoring marginalized suffering groups. It is a tough choice, but the right one. What a wonderful role model you are for your children. It’s time to take a stand and not be a bystander. Thank you.

  20. Thank you Beth for you honesty about the silly, gross, and painfully important things. You are one of the voices I look to to keep me sane (or at least at my own acceptable level of insanity). I love your son’s reaction to the ending of Harry Potter. Reading with my children has been giving me solace as well. During the hard part of a book with my daughter recently I found myself telling her “the only we learn to be brave is by facing scary things”. Waving in the dark!

    1. “The only way we learn to be brave is by facing scary things”. Well, that’s the God’s honest truth right there.

  21. We had to leave our parish (though not the Episcopal denomination) in the summer of 2015, and then I lost my father several months later. I am still fragile as we now deal with everything that is going on in our country…but no one is puking…yet. I feel for you, and am sorry that you are struggling with so much pain right now. But go look at JK Rowling’s tweets, and that might cheer you up a bit!

  22. I’m queer. I’m married. My three kids have two moms. I am told (by my wife) that nothing good ever comes of reading the comment sections of news articles. I still read them because I think they give me a good sense of who is walking down the street with me. And who is fixing my car, teaching my kids, repairing my dishwasher, living next door, and on and on. And I have to say, the comment section almost always makes me feel like we’re alone in a sea of people who don’t understand or want us. And how do I prepare and protect my sweet babies for that world? So thank you. For standing with us, but more than that, for raising your sweet babies to help create the world that my sweet babies can feel welcome and supported in.

    1. Oh, and also, I’m not a church person, but my wife (who’s sitting next to me), was raised Catholic and needed a church community when she left the Catholic Church. Needed it desperately. She walked into a UU church and fell in love with its message of social justice and diversity and inclusion.

    2. Love to you and your wife, Kate. May we create the world we want our children to live in.

    3. It’s my opinion that most people don’t leave comments unless they want to say something mean (obviously, this blog is the wonderful, wonderful exception) so maybe you should remind yourself that the comments on news articles are not representative of everyone. But, yes, some of the people you meet will, sadly, have those views. I can only imagine how hard it is to read that stuff. I know I have lain awake all night, furious at a comment some faceless stranger has made on something I have written on facebook (which is why I am not facebook any more). Keep breathing.

  23. I love this post on so many levels. It echoed my own feelings from years ago, when I decided to stop attending Mass at our Catholic Church due to comments made from the pulpit about the spiritual journey of a specific woman, and the continued exclusion of women from the priesthood. I was tired of feeling “lesser than”, and for as much as it pained me to leave the religion of my parents and grandparents, I truly feel I did the right thing. Funny that my faith in God grew after that departure.

    I hope your baby is feeling better, and your son’s grasp of the theme of “Harry Potter” warms the cockles of this librarian’s heart.

    1. Well… now 3 of us are puking. We apparently believe in family solidarity. 😀

      But, yes… “Funny that my faith in God grew after that departure.” It’s amazing what following the leading of Love will do for one’s faith.

      1. Might as well get the purging over with.

  24. Beth, this is so timely…. we too are looking at leaving our church home and wondering where do we will find to fit in. Is there a church that will welcome our democratic, feminist loving, LGBTQ loving family? We are sad to not worship with our friends, but are tired of feeling like we are in a constant state of defending our political and social beliefs. Cant we all just love Jesus and love people….ALL people? I feel lost, and yet I see so many of my friends and aquaintances from years gone by feeling the same way. The church is losing this generation and the next. Waving in the dark to you my friend!

    1. Many evangelical lutheran churches (ELCA) will fit the bill, as will Episcopalian and United Church of Christ churches will absolutely. UCC is affectionately called Unitarians considering Christ. And Unitarian Universalists will welcome you with open arms. And teach your kid to pray with their feet and hands. “Justice is Love in action.” -MLKJr

  25. I’m a member of the LGBTQ community and I read your blog. Thank you for standing with us.

    1. And thank YOU for being part of my community. Love to you and yours, friend.

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