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  • Kimberlee Runnion

For Pulse . . . What I couldn't say


This has been an intense week - beginning with the tragic shooting at Pulse in Orlando. I felt so devastated. In my grief, I reached out to my pastor. I asked to have a few minutes to speak on Sunday, to bear witness to the lives lost at Pulse, and to explain how devastating a shooting in a gay nightclub is to my queer family. Her first response was that we just don't have time on Sunday morning: we have too many things going on, and she'd try to cover it in her sermon. When I explained that I'm not comfortable with a cis-, hetero- person sharing my story or speaking for the queer community and that a national tragedy just might call for a slightly longer service, her response was that we don't just let people speak in church.

Last night, I sat down and wrote out the names of every victim in the shooting. I didn't write from a list. I wrote from a photo album, learning something about each victim as I wrote his/her/their name. That process was healing. I turned these prayer cards in to the offering plate in church on Sunday. Yet again, my pastor disappointed me. She made the cards available during coffee hour but refused to read the names aloud in church. When you don't say their names, you erase them. You erase all of us.

A few months ago, in a conversation with my mom, she suggested I start a blog. She's been looking for resources from lay queer people in the church. So "here I am" as the song goes. And as my first entry, I'd like to share what I wanted to say in church, what apparently might have offended people, what we didn't have time for.

"Before I started attending this church, it had been a long time before I regularly attended church. I’d go with my mom at Christmas or if I happened to be visiting, but that’s about it. You see, I have always been a Presbyterian at heart . . . but I couldn’t bring myself to attend a church that didn’t recognize me as a full member of the Body of Christ. I’m bisexual. That means that up until 2011, I couldn’t hold the position of deacon into which I was recently ordained and installed. And it was only two years ago TODAY that the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided I could get married in my own church . . . as long as the church I’m attending is okay with it.

I remember that historic vote. I was there. I caught wind that momentum was catching on, and I begged my mom to take me to the 221st General Assembly in Detroit. We sat there, wearing rainbow scarves made by MoreLight Presbyterians from across the nation, praying the Holy Spirit would move the commissioners to vote in favor of LGBT marriage equality. When it passed, I had to leave the assembly hall. I couldn’t stop smiling and crying. I felt like I was being welcomed home, and I knew I needed to accept the invitation. I started attending this church just a few weeks later.

Last week, a lone shooter attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando. I have been silent. I have been lost. I have spent the past week trying to wrap my head around this tragedy, and I simply can’t. I have found myself questioning the power of love. Can love really conquer hate? I’m not sure I know anymore. It wasn’t until I read the words of a dear friend (Ryan Louis) that I started to understand my heartbreak. Here’s what he had to say:

‘Maybe you don't know: those bars are our churches. They are the only places to escape the hate and anger and daily noise about being and feeling different.

Inside those spaces thumpa-thumpa means freedom/love.

If you hear the word "club" and are uncomfortable with the word being associated with the word "church," then you still don't quite get what is happening right now. You probably aren't yet grasping the actual sanctuary those places afford to those who enter.

. . .To shoot into our church is to shoot into the whole community. And when someone comes into a sanctuary and perverts it with their hate and violence, the ricochets hit us all.’

The church has only recently been a safe place for me. And I only have to travel twenty minutes away to find a Presbyterian church that is not a safe place for me, for people like me. But this church . . . this church is my home. I came out to a member here while cleaning up the communion table one Sunday. Her response? “You’re bi? Good for you!” How’s that for safe! I don’t want the love of this congregation to be a secret. There are so many people in the LGBT community looking for safe havens, especially following an attack on our sacred space. Let’s open our doors. Let’s be the Body of Christ, welcoming all of God’s beloved children. Those victims were my queer brothers, sisters, and siblings. Those victims so easily could have been me. And we are looking for a light in the darkness. A light like I have found at First Presbyterian Easton."

I didn't get to share that in church today. And I didn't get to hear the names of the victims read aloud. But I did show up in my MoreLight Presbyterians shirt and my rainbow scarf from last General Assembly. And you know what? That started conversations. That got people talking. That got people ready to act, to move, to do something. I am saddened that it is taking my pastor retiring to make this happen, but thanks be to God for my loving congregation, the congregation I wish I had been able to thank today.

#queer #PCUSA #Pulse #Orlando

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