Yesterday, my friend Jim and I went to the first Samstone Lecture. The guest speaker was Carol Lynn Pearson, a Mormon and writer who has worked with women and LGBT issues in her religious community. The event was sponsored and held at the very welcoming and friendly Washington’s Crossing Unitarian Church. The series is named after two of their long-time members, Ruth Samsel and Barbara Livingstone, who wanted to create a program that focused on women. They have also worked with LGBT social justice issues.
Friday was the first night of the event. I could not attend due to work and other commitments. I’m very sad that I missed it. Carol Lynn performed Mother Wove the Morning, a series of one act plays about women in history searching for the Feminine Face of God. She also did a meet and greet. I ordered a copy of the DVD and book and look forward to possibly hosting a viewing and discussion night at our Church (For my readers who don’t know, I am a member of the Cherry Hill Unitarian Church here in NJ.)
Saturday featured a lecture and panel discussion, focused on LGBT issues. The lecture, given by Carol Lynn, was entitled “Re-drawing the Circle: One Woman’s Journey.” Carol Lynn is a devout Mormon, who’s strength and love for her faith shines through. I admit to being in awe of her devotion and her desire to stay with her faith even when she does not agree with their stance on homosexuality and work for positive change from within.
During the lecture, she talked about her life and experience in being married to a gay man, their divorce, and how she took care of him as he was dying of AIDS in the 1980’s. She wrote a well-known memoir called Goodbye, I Love You. From this, she was approached by other gay and lesbian Mormons and their families and has worked with/for and counseled them ever since. A point she really emphasized was her belief that God loves everyone and everyone deserves to feel that love.
I related to Carol Lynn’s story on a deeply personal level. As I was in a heterosexual marriage as well. I came out at 14/15 and afterwards, went back in the closet and repressed my own lesbian soul, only to come out again at 28. According to Carol Lynn, the common advice to homosexuals in the Mormon religion is to fast, pray more, get married, and have a family. The thought is that if you are faithful, God will cure you of your homosexuality. Thankfully, Carol Lynn and others are working to change this and instead preach acceptance.
I think that my getting married was my way to trying to “cure” myself. I didn’t live in a extremely homophobic family,but society was much less closed minded. Many of my classmates acted like one of the worst things you could be was gay. I worried about them thinking that I was staring too long at female classmate or being too physically close to them. I was afraid they would think I was gay or even worse, realize it. My fear and internal homophobia was huge. I’ve made great progress in working through it and coming to self-acceptance, but I still have work to do. Honestly, I don’t think I even realized the depth of it and how far I’ve come until I was meditating on this lecture and reading Carol Lynn’s book No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones.
No More Goodbyes is really a call Mormons and other faiths to teach and show love to their LGBT members. It’s message is to be inclusive and accepting. Carol Lynn shares many stories of gay and lesbian individuals who have had to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. Many of the people are Mormon, but not all. Also, I found that their stories have universal themes that many of us who are gay can relate to. I found many of them deeply resonated with me. No More Goodbyes is a special and healing book. My soul has been touched by the stories shared and the positive message of acceptance.
After the talk, we had lunch and then proceeded to the panel discussion. The panel was entitled “Re-drawing the Circle: Bringing us all Together: Beyond the Collision Between Religion and Homosexuality.” It featured Carol Lynn, Rev. Jennifer Brooks, the Interim Minister at the Washington’s Crossing UU Church, Rev. Robert Coombe from the Yardley United Methodist Church, and Rev. Shelley Davis, from the United Christian Church in Levittown and out Lesbian. The interfaith panel discussed how homosexuality is currently viewed by their faith, how it can be more inclusive and accepting, and their experiences with homosexuality in their Churches.
The entire Samstone Lecture was very moving and a true healing experience for me personally. I will definitely be attending future events. According to the organizers, the next event will be held sometime next year, so I will be looking out for it when it is announced.
The Samstone Lecture Series Website: http://www.uucwc.org/samstone-lecture-page/
Carol Lynn Pearson’s Website: http://www.clpearson.com/
The website for Mother Wove the Morning: http://www.clpearson.com/mother_wove_morning.htm
The website for No More Goodbyes: http://nomoregoodbyes.com/
I have some other reflections that didn’t quite fit in to my review above, but that I wanted to share.
One, the Washington Crossing Congregation is very welcoming and friendly. I had a number of wonderful conversations with different fellow UU’s there. I always learn something or discover something new every time I attend a different Church and this was no exception. One really interesting program they have done is called “4 by 4 by 4.” This was part of their work in “Living the Welcoming Congregation.” Four members of the LGBT community and four members of the Congregation met four times to share stories with each other in a safe and open space in order to create understanding and fellowship. Some of the groups disbanded after the four meetings, but some continue to meet.
Two, I seem to get drawn into (or maybe called to) interfaith events. I almost always gain some new understanding in these interactions, whether is reflection on my own faith or appreciation of another. One Mormon practice that Carol Lynn touched on is they have Mentors. The Mentors are people who an individual can discuss issues of faith with one-on-one. It seems that they build strong, supportive bonds that create deep friendships and connections. I think this is such a wonderful thing. I think we foster some of that in our Fellowship Groups, but personally, I know I have wished for a individual mentor in my own faith and in my path as a Dianic Wiccan. I tend to be a leader, which is wonderful. I get to teach others, provide support and a safe space, and guide them on their path. However, sometimes, I feel I need that as well and my spirit sometimes craves the support, feedback, and guidance from someone with more experience who can inspire me as I move forward.