Tag Archives: inclusivity

ME & MY COLLAR

Submitted to The Persistent Voice by Rebecca Crystal, Unitarian Universalist MDiv Intern, written by one of the women clergy with whom she works in Houston, TX.

You may run into me on a Friday, in my neighborhood, so it’s time I let you know what you might see.

When I was doing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my supervisor suggested that any of us who came from traditions where a clerical collar was an option, take one “collar week,” to see how we were treated, as opposed to wearing regular professional clothes.

After a couple of days, I joked to the Catholic priest, “How do you manage the power?”

In regular clothes, I would walk into a patient’s room, and it would take about 5 or so minutes of introductions and pleasantries before we could really get down to talking about their feelings, their fears, the deep stuff.

With most people, as soon as that clerical collar walked in the room, with me attached, they began pouring out all the heavy stuff they were carrying.

I was riding the bus back and forth every day, and though not quite so dramatic, the collar effect was alive there, too. More people would chat with me, and they’d get “real” faster. Rarely was “How’s it going?” answered with a polite, “Fine,” as normally happened. People spoke about having a stressful time at work, or how they couldn’t find their cat, or their joy because someone special was coming in town.

It was great … and it was exhausting. At the end of the week, I confided to my CPE team that I was glad to take off the collar. As long as it was on, I was “on.”

I never expected to wear one as a Unitarian Universalist minister, unless I was doing social witness.

That’s the norm. We wear it in those situations because it’s important to give a message that religious professionals are there, especially when so many times, (LGBTQ issues, reproductive health), the impression is that religion is only on the conservative side.

A few of my colleagues wear it, though, especially my good friend Rev. Ron Robinson, who wears it around Turley, where he runs a missional community. And the Humiliati wore it as part of their practice.

It Started As an Experiment.

There’s a lot of “conventional wisdom” about the collar, among UU ministers. One that I heard many times is that it will turn people off, it will be a barrier. So after I was ordained, I decided to experiment. I would wear it out in my neighborhood, and keep a log of my interactions. I was just curious.

The first two or three times, I noticed some small things — it seemed that people, especially among the more economically or otherwise marginalized communities — were a little friendlier, a little more open to talking. But the collar has its effect on me, too, and perhaps I was just being friendlier myself?

The more definable result were the conversations I had with other women — especially younger women — about the collar. Was I a priest? No, a minister? A woman … how did that work? What did people call me?

Well, I do live in the Bible Belt.

And Became An Act of Social Witness.

I wasn’t doing it on any regular basis, I must admit. In regular clothes, I have the privilege of being invisible. But these questions, about being a women and a minister, prompted me to occasionally go out in my collar, in the community.

One day, I had to run several errands, including a trip to the post office. I kicked my rear (not literally, I’m not that flexible), put on the collar, and went about them.

At the post office, I futzed around awkwardly, looking for the right size box. The clerk at the counter waved me over, asked if he could assist me. He advised me on a cheaper way to ship, and helped me assemble the package. His co-worker joked, asking if I could give him holy water. The clerk said, “I don’t need that, but would you pray for me?” I smiled and said, Yes, and asked his name. His co-worker said to pray for her, too. I asked her name. When I left, I said, “Thank you, Ray.” And came home and prayed for Ray and Naomi.

So, It Developed Into A Spiritual Practice.

The spirit was willing, but the self-consciousness made me weak. It’s just so much easier to be invisible. I’d go out sporadically,  have an experience that made me mentally promise to be more regular about it … but life just keeps happening, busy schedules, things to make happen, ministry to do …

And then I heard about a teen in my area, who was gradually coming out as gay, exploring trans*. Hadn’t told their parents, don’t know how they’ll react. Someone told this teen about Unitarian Universalism – they went online, read about it, and were blown away that not all faiths are anti-gay.

In some places, this is still a shockingly new idea that people have never heard of.

There is a Starbucks across the street from my kids’ high school, where they often congregate after school. I decided I’d collar up with a rainbow flag pin on my shirt. I didn’t expect any teen would talk to me — I’m still an adult, after all. But I figured I could sit by the door, just taking care of some work on my computer, and maybe, just maybe, the juxtaposition of the collar and the pin might introduce the idea into some teen’s head that “Hey, maybe religion and gay aren’t enemies.” Maybe even, “Hey. Maybe Goddoesn’t hate me.”

So, I didn’t expect any confirmation. But sometimes we do things, even aware we’ll never know if it made a difference. That’s faith, I guess.

I was waiting for my lime refresher when the girl standing next to me said, “I like your flag pin.”

She said it, but her face looked doubtful. It was one of those rare times when I’m pretty sure I could read her thoughts. Does she know what that pin she’s wearing actually means?

I smiled at her. “I think it’s important, especially in this area, to send a message.”

I watched her eyes bounce back and forth between the pin and my collar.

“Are you a priest?”

“I’m a minister, a Unitarian minister. We’re an LGBT-friendly church.” I rethought the words. “Mmm, LGBT-welcoming?”

“LGBT-friendly is a good term,” she said. She squinted at me. “You mean, your church is okay with gay people?”

“Mmm-hmm. Some of our ministers are gay, too.”

She blinked and it seemed apparent this was a brand new idea. We had a conversation of a couple of minutes as she clarified that yes, I really meant it, it was fine to be gay at a Unitarian Universalist church.

“What’s the name of your church? My mom has been wanting to go to a church.”

I told her, and mentioned another in the area.

She repeated that her mom wanted to find a church. “We’ve been to a couple of churches … but the kids were mean to me. Because I’m gay.”

Deep breath.

I told her that I was so sorry. That that should never happen at a church. That it would not be tolerated at one of our churches. Not at my church, I emphasized, conscious of the collar I wore, conscious that it represented, to her, an authority far beyond me.

She asked if I could write down the name of my church. I handed her a business card. She read it slowly, standing there.

“I’m Joanna,” I said, shaking her hand.

“I’m —-,” she said, shaking my hand, looking me straight in the eyes.

That’s When it Became a Discipline. 

Every Friday afternoon, that’s where I am. I take my ipad, catch up on emails and whatnot.

What makes that a spiritual discipline? my mentor asked.

Presence.

Awareness.

As I mentioned, when I started my St. Arbucks ministry, my only thought was about presence. And I still think that’s important. It’s not about me being there. I am merely representing something — church, God, religion, spirit. With a message of inclusion.

But my experiences have taught me that it’s not just enough for my body to be present, I have to be fully aware. Which frankly, is not always one of my strengths, especially if I’m working on something else. I can have deep conversations with someone and after they leave, if you ask me whether they were wearing glasses, or wearing a red shirt, I’ll look at you blankly. Not very observant.

It’s like an exercise in spiritual peripheral vision. Being casual, certainly not staring at people as they walk in … yet being aware, so that if someone wants to begin a conversation, I’m open and willing. It’s not easy. My own teen was sitting near me one Friday and hissed, “MOM! That guy just said he liked your pin!”

I missed it.

And that’s usually how the conversation begins. “I like your pin,” they say. Sometimes, that’s the end of the conversation. Sometimes not. “I like your pin,” said a boy the other day. “Thank you,” I said. He turned to a girl sitting by him. “She’s a minister, but she likes gays.” The girl smiled at me, and with a British accent told me that in her country, gay marriage was legal now. We talked a bit, the three of us.

I often wear the pin on regular clothes. I get smiles, but it’s not the same.

It’s the collar and the pin. Religion and inclusiveness. God and gay.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: INTRODUCTION by Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible

This post and the three that follow it are articles derived from the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The convocation was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible with the following words.

Words have incredible power to shape our self-identity and behavior. Today, focusing on inclusive language/inclusive community, we’ll hear Alan speaking about the language we use for God/humanity. Kate will speak to the language we use within the church to talk about “family” and “singleness”. And Patty will speak from the perspective of a parent of one who is homosexual, about the power of words used/left unsaid to include or exclude persons whose sexual orientation is other than heterosexual.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: IMAGES FOR GOD AND HUMANITY by Alan Dreyer, M.Div. Senior

As I think about inclusive language, particularly as it pertains to God and humanity, I think of my own journey as I have come to understand God and humanity, particularly in relation to gender. In the not so distant past, I would have argued that to use mother to refer to God instead of father would amount to a type of blasphemy. In one sense, if scripture uses [male]language, even [male] pronouns with regard to God, and the language of “mankind” along with male pronouns in regard to humanity, who are we to tamper? Yet as I have come to talk about and even debate the merits of maintaining or expanding language one thing comes to mind; I have a wonderful relationship with my father. And in this sentence there is another truth. Some people have very difficult relationships with their fathers, or their mothers, or they don’t have one or the other or both parents altogether. What is their image of God compared to mine? Now this brings up the question, will my dogmatism to maintain the use of patristic language, because that’s how it was originally written, cause others to draw away from God because the images used for God reflect a broken reality in their own lives?

And this brings up another question. If there are images that are not particularly helpful for people to use when thinking about God, are there alternative images that expand the understanding of God? Are there alternative images that allow for a greater inclusivity of humanity? Of course! The bible overflows with ways to speak of humanity, of God, of Christ.

Inclusive language to me is about being able to proclaim God and the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that no one will feel that they are excluded. Or to put it another way, in such a way that everyone may have not one, but multiple images that help them to know God and the gospel.

Gender inclusivity is one area where this takes form. When and where we can use humanity instead of mankind, or persons instead of men, or sisters and brothers instead of simply brothers, we are opening up our message to a wider array of hearers and readers. When we use pronouns beyond “he” and “him” we speak in a different way to all, both women and men. What step could we take then, if we even embrace our transgendered kin by using the pronouns “ze” in conjunction with he and she and “per” alongside of him and her?

Of course, our language demands that we must use pronouns to refer to God. It becomes redundant when I say God multiple times in one sentence. Yet, to favor one gender in the pronouns excludes the other two. An incorporation of all three is one way to speak to a multitude of hearers.

Yet, to speak of God having gender at all is to define God in our own image. Any time we speak of God and create an image in our mind or language we run the risk of forgetting that God is transcendent to the creation. Rather, imagery and language used to describe God should not be to describe God, but rather God’s attributes. Metaphor and simile are useful to describe how we have known God to act throughout history, and in our personal histories.

The use of inclusive language in regard to both humanity and God is not a restriction or a law. Rather it offers freedom to proclaim welcome to all of us who have our own broken realities and freedom to experience the multifaceted attributes of God in new and meaningful ways.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: SINGLENESS by Katherine Woolf, M.Div. Senior

(Presented as part of the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary)

As I begin, I would like to say a word about faith formation and families. Faith formation for parents and children together and separately is a good and important task of the church. In speaking about single people in the church I do not wish, in any way, to devalue that. Rather, the purpose of this presentation is to make visible some of the unique struggles and considerations regarding language and worldview about single people in the church. That being said, this part of the “inclusive language” convocation will focus less on language and more on attitude or worldview, which comes through in our language.

Single people may find themselves in many different places in life. One might be single by choice or by circumstance. One might be previously married or partnered and now divorced, separated or widowed. One might never have been married or partnered. Each of these circumstances carries its own unique concerns, sensitivities and needs.

As with any situation where one person is speaking for a whole category of people, there are many voices that I will not represent well. The group I can most readily represent is the one from which my own perspective emerges which is: young, female, single and heterosexual. (And relevant to some parts of the conversation, a candidate for the ordained roster.) However, even within that group of people there are many diverse stories and experiences, which is why our ongoing conversations are so important. (Indeed ongoing mutual conversation about all of today’s issues is critical so that we can hear and learn from the perspectives of one another.)

In preparing for this, I spoke with several single people on campus. Below are the things that emerged most clearly from those conversations.

1. Please treat me like a whole person! The fact that I am not partnered does not make me less, and doesn’t necessarily mean I’m just waiting for someone else. Sometimes I think that people hear the common wedding text about two becoming one flesh and therefore assume that if you aren’t partnered then you’re just ½ flesh… somehow less than a whole person. This is neither true nor helpful. So, I suggest identifying people by what is, not what isn’t.
Similarly, well intentioned people sometimes approach those who are single and try to “help them” by setting them up with someone. Or by telling them, “It’s okay that you’re single because they have a career”, as though trying to justify their place in life.

People need/want community not pity! Value them and help give support when needed. There are some circumstances, like when one is new to an area where one doesn’t know people, where extra support may be useful particularly from colleagues. Just think about how you do this.

Please don’t make assumptions about my sexuality based on whether or not I’m in a relationship with someone.

On the whole, it is best to see anyone as a person: created imago Dei, claimed by God in baptism, and one for whom Christ died, rather than viewing them primarily by their relationship status (or any other particular attribute).

2. Men and women both have this problem I have heard about this more from women than men, and as a woman will speak from that perspective myself, but please understand that many of these things go both ways.

3. Don’t create dialectics. Yes, Lutherans really like them, but they can be problematic when applied to people. One problem faced by young women is that if you aren’t married, or well on your way, people assume you will be an “old maid”. However, if you are dating someone, but not yet married, especially for those who are candidates for rostered ministry in the church, people react as though something sexually immoral must be going on. (Such assumptions probably also affect unmarried men, but there seems to be more stigma for the women about being unmarried as they approach age 30 and beyond.)

In light of this, particularly with Visions and Expectations for rostered leaders, it is important to curb assumptions and rumors. In small communities like this, where we know so much about one another, it’s easy for stories to get started, and before the facts can be checked almost everyone knows. If you have a question or concern about someone’s behavior, please ask them before you talk about it.

A couple of helpful things to keep in mind. Sometimes men have friends who are women and women have friends who are men, in whom they have no romantic interest. This is good. However, many times assumptions are made that something is going on between those people. Again, please don’t assume. As colleagues in the parish, you can help support those who are single by not creating or exacerbating situations where there are rumors about conduct. If you have concerns, speak to the persons involved.

Some helpful things to think about as we minister in congregations (and other public contexts):

Culturally, being single can be alienating, particularly when most of your friends are married and have children or are getting married and having children. As the church it is great to create an environment that does not mirror this or enhance it.

Consider that relationship status may not be the single person’s favorite thing to talk about. In fact it almost certainly isn’t. Navigating this cultural issue can be tricky because, as I learned it, one of the five “safe” things to ask someone about is their family. However, you can probably imagine a whole host of reasons, beyond just this one, why that might not be the case.

Please consider that being in groups of all couples may be uncomfortable, particularly if congregational social events are consistently structured around pairs of people. Or have names like “Pairs and Spares”.

Let’s strive for worship that can include everyone intergenerationally, so that families are welcome and kids are able to participate, and so that people who come to worship alone are also included. A couple situations to consider: I was in a worship service geared toward kids’ participation and families were sitting together at tables sized to fit one family. This made coming alone very awkward. It was a good attempt to meet the need of the children. But it separated the worshiping community rather than finding a place for all of us. Similarly, some churches end up with a “widow’s pew” where those whose spouses have died find themselves awkwardly set apart in worship. Things like this are a good challenge for us to continue to think seriously about!

One task of our life together as church is to mark life passages. However, our life passages primarily mark out transitions in one’s life related to family relationships and traditional passages – like marriage. Otherwise for adults there are few markers of significant moments in one’s life unless they are about one’s children. So, how might we honor life passages of those whose lives are transitioning from one state to another that do not fall into those “traditional” categories? (Including transitions such as divorce or the death of a spouse that move someone from a state of being married to one where they no longer are.)

How we think about, and honor, primary life relationships is also important.
→ How do we honor and value people’s primary and important relationships as primary and important regardless of whether they are with parents, spouse, children, or friends?
→ How do we value people’s friends and pets as significant life companions and how can these be honored and taken seriously? For example, taking as seriously a person’s grief at their deaths as we do the death of another life partner.

There are a few considerations related to ministry in the church, singleness and particular age groups.

Young adults
Unmarried young adults can be invisible in the church. Please don’t treat us like we’re invisible.

Also, we do not typically view church as a dating service. Don’t make it one. We are here for God and to participate in the body of Christ, not to find a life partner. Please help others to understand this as well.

For older adults there are also unique challenges and concerns, particularly as spouses and life partners begin to die. Suddenly people find themselves in groups of couples, but now they are the odd one out which can exacerbate feelings of aloneness. The aforementioned “widow’s pew” can also be an unfortunate result. It is worth thinking about how these folks can be supported without being singled out in an awkward way.

Finally, how do we conceive of the church as a place where we come together to worship God and are viewed in light of our identity in Christ?  A community that takes seriously baptismal promises and creates a place for faith formation of people in all walks of life, so that the contributions of all to that journey are valued and each one has a place.