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Confession through a Queer Lens

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the confessional sequence. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Max Hill

As a queer person, I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with authenticity.
Not all spaces are safe for full honesty about my identity.

Time home with certain family members just causes stress.

As does living in a seminary community among students with a diversity of theological beliefs about my body, my expression, and those I love.

And so does walking into an unfamiliar worshipping community and not knowing if such a space is one that I can relax in or

if my walls of anxiety are a warning that this isn’t a place where I can be all of who God created me to be.

Photo from Maryland Presbyterian Church Facebook page

So I negotiate.

Not always consciously, but it always happens.

I ask questions about what I need to wear and how I need to perform that day.

Should I paint my nails? Put on makeup?

Those little things that help me to feel like myself – or

is it better to do what’s safer

To wear my boy clothes? To keep my nails and face bare?

And if I do that, do I need to hide the rainbow tattoo on my arm?

This negotiation can be exhausting and draw me away from worship.

So maybe a more meaningful worship is happening amongst those where I don’t have to hide –

my queer family.

I’m lucky to have a queer family of faith.
People that I can go to and it doesn’t occur to me to negotiate outward expression or and put up an internal wall of protection.
People with whom I can just put on “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande and vogue the night away.

The drag queens, butch queens, femme boys, trans persons, and those of nonbinary identity and expression in our churches all negotiate themselves almost to the point of extinction. Not all of us have the strength or opportunity to live authentically in our places of worship.

But what is worship when we hide?

What is confession when we are not giving all of ourselves – when we are not SO honest and authentic that we can feel it in our bones?

The authenticity of queer identity and expression is not the act of confession – because it’s an authenticity that doesn’t hinge on our imperfections.

Queer identity and expression is not an imperfection.

But it’s something our confession can learn from.

In confession we get honest – or we’re supposed to….

We speak together of our failures and admit our faults.
Those of queer identity and nonnormative gender expression know what it means to not always love ourselves. We know how easy it can be to internalize the isolation of not seeing ourselves in the world (or in the pulpit).

Those lucky enough to have the strength and resilience to thrive know what it means to unpack the shame placed on us, to take the harm we inflict on ourselves and lay it down.

And what more is confession than radical authenticity? To be authentic is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to trust and hope for grace.

Confessional vulnerability is exactly what our worship needs. We need to break our liturgy open and examine ourselves.

Because when we do, we can truly experience the grace that Christ shows us.
The grace to dance.

To laugh.

To live.

To be.

Negotiation forces us to examine ourselves deeply.

Examination allows us to know ourselves intimately.

This way, we can harness the strength to accept Christ’s love and grace.

Our confession can learn more about how to know yourself intimately from queer, trans, and nonbinary persons.

We know how to proclaim as Brooke and Carmen Xtravaganza do in Paris is Burning, singing, “I am what I am, I am my own special creation!”

And we know how to show grace to those that can’t see our authenticity as beautiful.

Thanks be to God.


Max Hill is passionate about relationships, community building, and the intersection of faith and identity. He has recently served as the Student Minister for Contextual Exploration, Community Engagement, and LGBTQ Belonging at Maryland Presbyterian Church outside of Baltimore. He has also served as a Student Pastor for LGBTQ Fellowship at Broad Street Ministry and Brick Presbyterian Church in the City of New York. Before that, Max was a grant writer and New Worshiping Community founder/facilitator with United Campus Ministry at the University of Arkansas. Max is in his senior year at Princeton Theological Seminary.

A Ministry of Emboldening LGBTQ+ Students

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Susan Young Thornton is curating a series highlighting ministry on the Pacific coast — a diverse, rapidly changing, and dizzyingly complex part of the country, and home to our upcoming 2019 National Gathering. We’ll hear from individuals serving in a variety of ministry settings about the struggles and blessings of living into God’s call on the West Coast. What is it really like to serve in this region? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Erin Green

I grew up in the Evangelical church and suppressed my being gay until my early thirties, when I had a very spiritual and cathartic moment that would change the course of my life forever. I was thirty-two when I came out as gay and Christian, fully affirming myself and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church.

Photo from Brave Commons Facebook page

I have been passionate about Scripture since I was a child and never lost that passion, even while being ignored as a woman and marginalized as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I became a member of the PC(USA) shortly after coming out, and decided to return to academics to achieve my Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies. I went to Biola University and led their underground LGBTQ+, non-school sanctioned affirming group, Biolans’ Equal Ground. We held several demonstrations, events, and protested on campus when a lecture on campus endorsed conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ folks as a way to “heal” from their “sinful identity.” While training in biblical studies, I was also involved in The Reformation Project, a Christian, intersectional non-profit which focuses heavily on the Bible, inclusion, and racial justice. I did an extensive leadership cohort training with them and worked as a faith advocate and activist for other nonprofits as well.

In 2016, I transferred to Azusa Pacific University to complete my Biblical Studies degree and helped consult APU’s underground LGBTQ+ movement, called “Haven.” I spent my senior year negotiating a controversial policy removal that previously banned “romantic same-sex relationships.” The policy was reinstated by the school’s Board of Trustees once they received public criticism and backlash from conservative constituents and donors. I am currently working on action to protect LGBTQ+ students at APU and holding Christian institutions accountable by not allowing them to further marginalize and “other” our community within Christian university spaces.

Brave Commons, the current organization I help lead, is a new organization structured to unify and converge all LGBTQ+ underground and overground student groups at Christian universities across the U.S. Our specialty is understanding the dynamics of specific school regions, institutional politics, and emboldening LGBTQ+ student group movements. We employ a horizontal model of leadership with three co-executive directors strategically located in critical regions of the U.S. with non-affirming Christian universities nearby. Each one of us is trained in biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, intersectionality, pastoral care, racial justice, and direct action organizing. Along with my colleagues, Michael Vasquez and Lauren Sotolongo, we are also members of the Latinx community.

Brave Commons seeks to provoke a movement of faith and justice within Christian institutional and faith community spaces that oppress LGBTQ+ folks and Queer People of Color. Our Sermoncast series is a movement of homiletical activism and resistance where we utilize the common lectionary to preach to those on the margins and on the peripheries. We grieve the trauma imposed on our community and we seek to restore it, build it up, ignite it, and invite our LGBTQ+ siblings to take their seats at God’s table as beloved children of God.


Erin is an M.Div student (class of 2021) at San Francisco Theological Seminary. You can learn more about her and her brave initiatives at bravecommons.org. This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 edition of SFTS’s Chimes Magazine.

Refusing to Hear

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Angela Williams

“…whose expressions of faith we have refused to hear.”
– The Sarasota Statement

For most of my life, I have refused to hear even my own expression of faith and expression of self. When I was first engaging with the Presbyterian Church at the denominational level, it was as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate to the 221st General Assembly. In that role, I voted to create marriage equality in the PC(USA), not knowing that my push of the button would affect my own potential future marriage.

Seven months later, I cried out for answers and heard only silence. In that void, I heard God’s response, and it terrified me. My gut already knew who I was, and the Spirit offered no other commentary. I did not seek the silence, but the silence greeted me and reflected my identity as a bisexual cisgender woman. In that long, dark night, I wrestled with God. Of course I supported other people’s expressions of their gender and sexual identities, wherever they may lie on the spectrum, but that did not apply to me.

Art by Jeff Gill via Flickr

It took many months of struggling and bargaining to accept and love this newly unfolding part of me. It was even longer before I decided to share that side of me with the world. While I tiptoed in and out of the closet, only revealing my bisexuality to certain confidants, fear made a home in my gut. This fear was the strongest motivator in hiding my full identity. Fear of the injustice I could face. Fear of rejection. Fear of the church. Fear that I would lose relationships. Fear that this part of me would jeopardize my ordination process. Fear of not finding a job in ministry. Fear that I would not be fully embraced as part of God’s beloved family.

Perhaps fear is why we, the church, have refused to hear some expressions of faith. If we truly listened to the stories of those crying out for justice, then we would be convicted to act. If we looked to the silence, perhaps God would not respond, leaving us to wrestle with our gut instinct that something is not right.

Oh, how we are called to change if we truly seek justice, if we actually offer hospitality, and if we fully embrace as part of God’s beloved family those whom the church has harmed individually and systemically. I imagine that in living out that gut feeling, that Spirit nudging, the church would find it difficult to maintain the status quo. How beautiful would the church be if all were loved, welcomed, and protected, no matter the trauma they have experienced.

Still, that process of transformation must begin with those of us in the dominant culture observing silence. In our silence, may we create space for the marginalized and historically silenced to share their stories of injustice. Then, we in the dominant culture must believe them. The Spirit is in solidarity with those stories and moves within hearts and souls to enact justice in this world. Welcome Her movement into your relationship and gut. Wrestle with Her for a while. Then use your voice and privilege to follow Jesus and stand with and for those who are unjustly marginalized and oppressed.

The Sarasota Statement offers wisdom and rich guidance for the church in 2018. While it is both confessional and aspirational, I find space in it where I can wrestle with my own privilege, as well as feel comforted that I am embraced as part of God’s beloved family. Upon reflection, this document encourages me to seek out silence and listen for other expressions of faith in my self and in others that I have refused to hear. Whose expressions of faith have you refused to hear? How can you start listening for their stories?


Angela Williams is training to be a community organizer and a pastor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and at the University of Texas School of Social Work in Austin, TX. She finds life in experiencing music, listening to podcasts, and exploring creation.

Called. And Gay.

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by Kathryn Johnston

On a bright, cold Saturday in early January, the deacons and the session gathered for a combined meeting. The tradition is that as we worship together, the incoming class of officers share the faith journeys that led them to say ‘yes’ to the nominating committee. This is the culmination of their officer training.

As you can imagine, these testimonies cover a wide array of experiences and delivery styles. Most people speak with notes or at least an outline. Some have a fairly cut and dry story: grew up Presbyterian, stopped going to church in college, came back, now want to serve, glad that they can.

I recognize that story. I am that story. But five years ago, I thought that story was coming to an end.

Since high school I have been saying out loud: “God has called me to ministry.”  

Over five years ago I finally said out loud: “I am gay.”

These were two things that I did not think could be true at the same time. And yet, there I was, torn between wanting to resign from my position as senior pastor/head of staff to spare everyone, including myself, the pain of a coming out process; and knowing that running away from God’s call to serve this particular community, without them being a part of the discernment process, would not be faithful.

The coming out process began small – the chair of the staff committee, the clerk of session, two long time members of the congregation, and another ruling elder. I had two questions:

  1. What is best for the congregation?
  2. Where do we go from here?

They encouraged me to stay and we prayerfully and cautiously moved forward; session meetings featuring Bible studies and special speakers, congregational Q&A’s, and conversations with church members. Some of the things we did went well. Some of things we did – and didn’t do – could have been done better. After a few months, the session informed the congregation that they supported my call as senior pastor/head of staff. Some people applauded the decision, some left, and some people stayed even though they weren’t quite sure how they felt about it. I think all of us wondered, “Where do we go from here?”

It was hard to know what would come next for the congregation. The area of the country where the church is located is fairly conservative, with a general approach to controversial topics of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I held up what I thought was my end of the bargain. I didn’t seek out publicity. We just continued to do what God had called us to do: proclaim the love of Jesus Christ through worship and mission.

Of course, word did get around which resulted in more people leaving, but other people started coming. Some of them joined. One of those new members was at that January meeting this year. She stood up to give her testimony. She told us about being called to serve as a deacon at her former church. She told us about meeting her now wife, and how that meant she had to resign from being a deacon. Her eyes welled with tears.

I looked around the room through my own blurry vision. Everyone was transfixed as she shared what it was like to now be in a community of faith where the way she was fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image did not stand directly opposed to the call she felt to be a deacon.

Her testimony ended with thankfulness to those whose courageous decisions led to her not just being welcomed into the congregation, but also being eligible to serve. “Thank you,” she said, tears now streaming. The elders and deacons rose as one to embrace her, just as they had done with me five years earlier.

  1. What is best for the congregation? Keeping our minds and hearts open to who God is calling us to be.
  1. Where do we go from here? Anywhere God calls us, proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ.

Kathryn Johnston is pastor of Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. A graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, Kathryn earned her M.Div. at Princeton Seminary. She and her wife have four children (3 ‘adulting’ out in the world, 1 in middle school), 2 cats and a lively lab mix named Teddy.

How Straight is Your Church?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Laura Cheifetz is one of our presenters. Learn more about his workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Laura Cheifetz

After years (and years and years) of discussing and debating sexual orientation and the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people in church leadership, the church constitution changed the requirements for ordination. Rather suddenly, the way was clear for people to serve in ordained capacities regardless of sexual orientation. Several years later, the constitution was changed so that same-sex marriages would be recognized and could be celebrated/officiated by Presbyterian churches and pastors.

painted cross copyAfter these decisions and constitutional changes, some of us shrugged and continued on in our ministries. Some couldn’t stomach the thought and have fought the decision however they could, to the point of leaving. Some of us were ushered into a joyful gay parade of sparklers and streamers. Others, especially those who had left us for denominations who had already given churches permission to officiate same-sex marriages, welcomed us into the throngs of churches who had long been accepting of GLBT persons and their relationships.

While the national scene mattered at a policy level, it is the congregations where the vast majority of Presbyterian GLBT persons spend their time. For these people who are committed to congregations, because faith isn’t separate from community, not every church that professes to be open to membership of GLBT persons is altogether successful.

Even the most self-consciously welcoming church can make missteps in any number of things. A church may consider itself more queer-friendly than it is really is. Some churches are fine with gay people who conform as closely as possible in education and political leanings to the straight people in the church. Many churches are active in working for the rights of gay and lesbian people, but are less able to address the concerns of queer people who face racism and sexism or are gender non-conforming. Others sail along and stumble only when an ill-equipped member says something offensive to a gay or lesbian or transgender member.

Want to talk about it? Attend the workshop I will be facilitating at NEXT Church later this month, called “How Straight is Your Church? Making Congregations Welcoming Spaces for LGBTQ Christians.”


Laura CheifetzLaura Mariko Cheifetz works as the Vice President of Church & Public Relations for the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. She blogs at churchrelations.blogspot.com and enjoys food, friends, her dogs, bad pop music, and television marathons.

Laura’s workshop, “How Straight is Your Church? Making Congregations Welcoming Spaces for LGBTQ Christians,” is offered during workshop block 1 on Monday.