Last weekend, I was honored to attend the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Bay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests. The theme of the gathering was “Walls to Tables.” I connected with good friends and got to know acquaintances better and met many wonderful new people. As much as I hate to promote stereotypes of the gay community, I have to admit that the singing—mostly four part a capella—was AMAZING. And the laughter. One thing about people who have stuck with the church despite decades of harassment and shaming and systemic oppression—they have wonderful senses of humor.
I am grateful to the LGBTQIA Mennonite and Brethren community for allowing me to be with them and
learn from them during their celebration. I learned how difficult and fearful it was for gay Mennonites to find each other and form this network of support in the 1970’s. I learned that in earlier years of the organization, BMC began board meetings by naming those who had died from AIDS. I learned the history of Germantown Mennonite, that has been kicked out of MCUSA for its open and affirming stance. I learned the phrase “lipstick lesbian.”
Most importantly, I got a brief sense of how it feels to be a minority in terms of my sexual identity; and I got a glimpse of the depth of my own heteronormative assumptions.
It was a wonderful weekend that concluded with a prophetic and celebratory worship service that focused on Psalm 23 and led us to a communion table laden with bread and juice and fruit. Below are three pieces written especially for this service. I share them here with deep gratitude for all who were gathered around that spectacular table with me this past Sunday.
A Call to Gather
by Annabeth Roeschley
Welcome to this place — a place where all are welcome.
Welcome to this sacred place, the walls that invite in, the table of abundance, the house of the holy;
A house made ever more holy by our persistent presence.
You who have come home often, and you who have not been for a very long time;
You who saw the early walls, who have dismantled, who have danced in the margins,
You who are still resisting, who are dancing even harder;
You who have gone before,
You who have left, who have been left behind, pushed out; you who are dancing elsewhere;
Your spirits are remembered in this home.
We have walked in the valley of shadows. We have seen evil.
For forty years (and more!) we have wandered, and found, wandered, and found.
And where we have gathered, we find —
beloved friends, the finest foods, cups pouring over, the anointing oil.
We find the most colorful god who welcomes with reckless abandon.
May we be blessed in this home!
May our bodies be blessed and at home here.
Our born bodies, Our reclaimed bodies, Our transitioning bodies.
May our inner selves be blessed and at home here.
Our whole selves, Our partial selves, Our questioning selves.
May joyfulness, passion, and love meet us here; may this house of abundance be our dwelling forever.
Welcome, and blessed be!
Litany of Prayer
by Lisa Ann Pierce
Gather at the Stonewall. Come as you are, you bright, wild, beautiful children of God, for here we will not be policed. At the Stonewall, your outrage is as welcome as your joy. Your desires are as welcome as your generosity. Your pride is as welcome as your humility. Bring your whole, holy, queer and queer-loving selves, for we are about to pray. Holy One, hear our prayers.
Holy One, hear our rage and peace, our longings and belongings, our brokenness and our fierce resiliency.
We thank you, God, for those who, with wisdom and courage, created BMC. Against all odds, they created a community of love and justice. They forged a path out of isolation and into possibility, out of Egypt and toward a land of milk and honey.
Thanks be to God!
We thank you, God, for all those who have followed, each injecting new hope and vitality in their own way, some arriving, some parting, all keeping BMC on the path through these 40 years of wilderness travel.
Thanks be to God!
We thank you, God, that we meet your love in the power of community to break down shame, to bind up wounds, to strengthen us for the hard work of desert living.
Thanks be to God!
Holy One, hear our rage! While you send manna in the desert, our denominations continue to build walls! Sometimes we have bloodied our heads on those walls. We have made ourselves vulnerable, shared our stories, pleaded for change. In response, denominational leaders have asked us to wait, to be patient, then to be vulnerable again and again, to put on sack cloth and ashes, to exhibit our pain for their examination, then sit in silent moratoria while they wait for their terms to end.
Hear us, Holy One, in our rage and pain!
But you, Holy One, cannot be contained by walls. You meet us at these walls, erected in fear. You tend our wounds, call us out of suffering, and invite us to dance. So we have learned to dance at the walls, watching the walls shake with every footfall. We have learned to celebrate the church we are, claiming our God-given gifts. Now we dance and play, finding joy, like Jesus, in resistance to injustice, in subversion of hatred.
Holy One, we dance with you!
Let this be our most joyful dance! Let us dance with such bliss that the walls shudder and fall. Let us take up those broken walls and transform them, that they may never be repurposed. Let us build a table for all, a table of welcome, joy, justice, and peace–a table to transform the world.
Holy One, your Love transforms the world!
Spread the table in beauty and in love. Fill it with abundance. There we will break bread, drink of the cup, remember Jesus and our cloud of witnesses. There we will look backward upon oppression and forward toward a just world. There we will look one another in the eye and know God’s greatest gift is love.
Holy One, your Love transforms the world! Amen.
Expanded Psalm 23
by Joanna Harader and Ruth Harder
The Holy One is our shepherd, we have enough:
enough love and longing
enough community and compassion
enough sacred and sassy
enough fierceness and fabulousness
They make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters and restore our souls:
at BMC gatherings
at Connecting Families
at Pink Menno rooms
at this place, right here, right now.
“You lead and accompany [us] / into the path of justice and solidarity, / and [we] find integrity in your way.“
the way of speaking out and listening well
the way of deep love and deep pain
the way of celebration and protest
the way of dancing and wall-demolition
Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death
where we are talked about, but not to
where our giftedness is not received
where our relationships are not honored
where we are labeled and cast aside
We will fear no evil, for you are with us; your rod and your staff, they comfort us.
We lean on your Word that speaks love and justice
We lean on your people, who speak acceptance and life
We lean on your church where it is open, affirming, and welcoming of our whole selves
We lean on your Spirit of praise, protection, and protest
You prepare a table before us
this table made from fallen walls
this table covered with all the colors of the rainbow
this table of fountains and fruits and abundance
this table where we are welcome
In the presence of our enemies
people and principalities
polities, procedures, and processes
“dialog” and “discernment”
resolutions and yet another task force
You anoint our heads with oil
the oil of blessing
for lives that are holy and whole, sacred and fabulous
the oil of commissioning
that we might go forth in our fierceness to tear down walls and set spectacular tables
Our cups overflow
our joy overflows
our hearts overflow
our queer and queer-loving selves overflow
with the abundance you pour out
Surely rainbows and unicorns will follow us all the days of our lives
and we will dwell in the fabulous house of the Divine forever.