Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Church wrecker?

I’ve been reading The Two Aunties blog for several weeks now.  Sarah and Kay are a married trans couple living in the southeast who have continued to be active in their small Episcopal church through transition and beyond.  This morning Sarah wrote about her experience in worship yesterday:

As the only transgender person of our small church, I was greatly saddened at this morning’s service. We are a small church in number, but as the service started only 4 people were in the seats; not counting the altar party and those who were sitting in the choir.

Many of us can relate to the kind of discouragement a person feels on a Sunday like that.  But imagine how much worse it would be if you thought it was all your fault.  Sarah continues:

I have developed a strong bond with my church and to most of the people who attend, and when attendance is down I am too quick to . . . think those who I expect to show up wanted to stay away because of me. My strong love for my church was one of the last road blocks, if you like, which held me back in revealing my being trans. The one reason that I waited so long, was my fear that by revealing my true self, that would cause people to react by point fingers at me if the church were to crumble where it stood. Being the person who causes a church’s demise was the last thing I wanted on my head.

Reading Sarah’s fears brought me back to my early years in ministry.  I was pastoring a small Baptist congregation overseas that had been teetering on the edge of collapse for some time before they called me, and I felt myself to be in many ways the last, best hope for renewal for this once thriving church.  I evaluated every decision I made, every sermon I preached, every pastoral action I undertook by the attendance at our worship services.  When lots of people showed up, I felt affirmed.  When only a few came, I doubted.  And on those dark days when my family and I were the only ones there, I despaired.

Then one day I realized that my own choices had much less to do with the size of our congregation than I had previously believed.  I can’t pinpoint what led me to that realization, but I’m sure it was connected to learning the following:

  • People make their own choices about where and when to worship.
  • I am not responsible for those choices.
  • I am responsible for my own choices.
  • My responsibility for my choices is to God, not to the congregation.
  • To carry out my ministry with integrity, I must resist the temptation to take responsibility for the choices of others.

Sarah, you are not responsible for what has happened to your beloved church.  If some have left the church because of your presence there, they did so because they chose to.  You are not responsible for their choices; they are.  You are responsible only for your own choice to live with integrity among the people of God you have loved.  And you are not responsible to them; you are responsible to God.

There is a myth among Christians that living with integrity will always lead to prosperity.  Even a cursory reading of Scripture, I think, dispells that myth.  Frequently, individuals and congregations who stand firm for what is right do not prosper.  Sometimes they face strong resistance.  Sometimes that resistance even comes from within.  “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.”  “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

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6 Comments»

  Sarah Riggle wrote @

Thank you Allyson, for reading our blog and paraphrasing what Kay keeps trying to drive into my head. She is the one who always brings me back to my senses.
Sarah

  Allyson wrote @

It’s my pleasure, Sarah. Isn’t it a blessing to have someone in your life who’s willing to bring you back to your senses? (I have my someone too.)

  Kay wrote @

Thank you so much for your words. I heard sniffling as we were singing in the choir yesterday and turned to see Sarah in tears. I mouthed, “what’s wrong,” but she just shook her head. I thought I knew what she was thinking because the same thing was on my mind.

There have been some changes with the church service that account for the low numbers………people teaching a new Sunday School for kids and a second earlier service added. However, there are noticeable absences and that breaks both our hearts. When we talked after services, I reminded Sarah (and myself) of this.

I tried to tell Sarah that I was trying to compare this situation to pruning our shrubbery. It looked pretty bare when we trimmed things this winter but we are seeing new growth. This is what we are praying for new growth and a stronger community.

In all fairness, we do have a wonderful loving church family. I was so touched to see our governing body make hard choices that were the right thing……….not just for us but for those that will come after us. Our priest has come up with some innovative changes supported by the governing body that would have satisfied anyone but the most serious bullies. Keep us and our church family in your prayers.

  Allyson wrote @

I will pray, Kay.

(And I can tell how much your church family loves you by what you’ve both written. What a great blessing.)

  Melissa wrote @

Kay and Sarah,
You 2 represent my foundation at our church. If you left, I would follow you. Those that did leave the church, left a hole, but one that is going to be filled in with people that will build up our church and provide positive relationships for us all. It will just take time. God, in His Infinite wisdom, will send people our way when He is ready. Just know that you are much loved just how you are!!!!! xxoo, Melissa

  Allyson wrote @

This story just gets more and more beautiful with time. 🙂 Y’all are making *me* want to come to your church!

Melissa, thanks so much for stopping by. What a dear friend you must be to these women…and to so many more, I’m sure.


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