Last spring my 75-year young mother was asked to speak on a panel discussing her church congregation’s response to a new reality in Canada – same-sex marriage. The United Church of Canada, of which her congregation is a part, has been very supportive of “equal marriage”, as its advocates call it, and various statements on the matter can be seen at the denomination’s web-site.Mom is not web savvy, and I have not (yet) asked her permission to post this, but I do so by rationalizing that her courageous presentation to her congregation was a very public one. Our family’s story has also been told, in even greater detail, several years ago in the United Church of Canada’s magazine.
While I did not grow up in this congregation, since my parents were transferred to Quebec after my brother’s birth, Mom and Dad (he died four-and-a-half years ago) retired in my grandmother’s home several years ago and the town and the congregation are a second home to me now. (I am the “second son” she refers to.)
I have been asked here today to share my story as a mother of two gay sons, one a United Church minister ordained in 1980, the other a journalism graduate.But first I’d like to say I have very strong ties to St. Paul’s. My parents joined this church in 1925, the year of church union. I grew up here, attending Sunday School, Young Peoples’, and choir, was married in this church and our first son was baptized here. And I have been back for twenty years.
When our first son came out to us it was the late 1970s. Our second son came out four or five years later. They were unaware of each others’ situations.
Our emotions were all over the map. (1) Profound sadness for what they must have gone through as teenagers and for how we all would be treated. (2) Fear of what we did not understand and of what other people would think. We had great concern for our older son’s career as he was a year or so away from ordination. (3) Confusion. Where were we to turn for support? ( although our son had already told three close friends, all United Church ministers and good friends of ours.) There’s a saying that when children come out of the closet, their parents go in. (4) Loneliness. Their two sisters were younger and it was my husband and I with our son against the world – or so it seemed at the time. (5) Pride. We also felt honoured that they both could be honest, first of all with themselves and then with us. (6) The one emotion we did not have was anger. That came later when we had to face others’ reactions. I don’t recall all that was said the night we were first told but I know that we did say, “your friends will always be welcome in our home.”
After days and hours of struggle and many tears, it suddenly dawned on us! They are the same great kids that they were before we knew.
Our second son had always been in the church but while away at school found himself in a more fundamentalist church where he “tried to pray it away.” Later he joined the Metropolitan Community Church which welcomed gays and lesbians. But he continued to feel he had a right to be in the United Church. He finally found an affirming church in Toronto where his talents are welcomed. The question he is asked most often by non-Christian friends in the gay community is “Why are you still a Christian? Why would you go to church?”
At the time our son came out to us I was teaching music in the local elementary school and as classes came into the music room I found myself looking at the children and wondering which ones might have to go through the same difficult time. Just three years ago the mother of one of those same children phoned me one day from Montreal seeking advice.
During this time I also sat in a staff room where so-called “gay jokes” were sometimes told. We should be so careful! We never know what the person next to us is going through.
When we told my 83 year old mother, she said, “Well, I love them anyway.” We also had a great deal of support from the people in our son’s congregation as he gradually came out to the folks there, a few friends at a time, after he’d been there for several years. God had surely placed him in a special place.
Our older son has a caring partner of 15 years. When he visited his partner’s family, the fact that he was gay was not important or that he was an anglophone ( he speaks French). They were more puzzled by the fact that he was a Protestant! Our younger son is single. When I visit their homes they are like any other with the same responsibilities and concerns of any family.
What a sense of relief as we gradually told extended family and close friends and lost no close friend as a result. However, silence seems to be the reaction from other people who cannot accept our situation.
Our greatest source of strength has come from our firm conviction that as Christians this could be our only response. Our support has come from many people in the wider church community of which we have always been a part.
I leave you with two questions:
What will your reaction be if or when a child or grandchild of your’s gives you this news? Will they trust you enough to tell you?
We bring our children to Sunday School and church and continually tell them how much God loves them and how much we love them. Then, when they are older and some discover a different sexual orientation, do we say, ” Oh, sorry. God doesn’t love you anymore.”?
I don’t think so.