A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 4: Persistent love is Christian love
The Parsonage’s charter served many bureaucratic and logistical purposes to help The Parsonage run more smoothly, but more importantly, its charter plainly stated who The Parsonage would be. Anyone who read this document needed to be able to answer questions like “what role is The Parsonage designed to have in the church, the Castro, and the world?” and “what call is The Parsonage responding to?” The last opening statement in the document profoundly answers those questions with the declaration, “The ultimate scandal for Christians is that of lovelessness.” This gets at what the heart of The Parsonage’s ministry was about — love. This speaks volumes of subtle truth to power. The mainstream culture of the time dictated that being gay or lesbian (or bisexual, transgender, or any other non-cis/non-straight identity) was in and of itself a scandal. It was one that was greeted with taunting, shame, and hate, qualities that are quite the opposite of the one Jesus showed and called Christians into when he “stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross.”
So, with this centrality of love to the Christian faith, recall from part three of this series that there had been a disagreement between Bishop Swing and a priest. The Rev. Robert Cromey had announced in January of 1983 that he would perform a blessing on the relationship between two men. Bishop Swing forbade this service from happening, so on the planned date of the ceremony, April 2, 1983, Cromey wrote a public letter stating the facts of the situation and that he was obeying his bishop. Throughout the public discourse, he stated that this issue was “less thorny than we make it to be,” which provoked a long response from Bernard Mayes, who published his response publicly (it is important to note that Mayes and Cromey are very much “on the same side,” so to speak. But in an all too familiar reality, people working towards the same goal can disagree). Mayes wrote “I thought, as it seems do you, that love would be sufficient to guarantee full fellowship [in church communities].” Mayes goes on to remind readers of the Church’s imperfections in expressing the love that Jesus taught. “Love was too vague,” he claimed, “not exclusive enough. Anyone can experience it.” He continued, “For a variety of reasons, Church people down the ages have thought it necessary to keep people out. Love opened too many doors, and for traditional thinkers, homosexual love is living proof that they are right.”
Only four months later, Mayes’ point was made for him by a situation in Placerville, California. He caught wind of a letter addressed to “Tom” (very likely Tom Tull) from a lesbian couple who had moved away from the Bay Area (where they had worshipped at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco — a “supportive community” where they were welcomed and loved). One of the women wrote that after eight active years in a parish in the diocese of Northern California, when she and her partner became chalice bearers, a few other members avoided receiving the sacrament from them. This happened around the time when the church had a new rector, who responded by barring them from receiving the sacraments until they declared they were celibate.
Although Mayes had never met this couple, he didn’t break custom and was quick to write directly to the priest involved, asking him to reconsider his excommunication of faithful people. After meetings and discussion between the couple and the bishop of the diocese of Northern California, the couple decided to use action to speak truth to power. They had been invited by their bishop to attend any other parish in the diocese, but chose to continue attending where they had been going for eight years with the support of their congregation, despite being passed over while kneeling at the altar rail. “It is not our aim to cause a division,” one of the women wrote in a letter back to Mayes, “but to keep the discussion open.” Christ’s love opens many doors indeed, and nevertheless, these women persisted in showing that.
The couple thanked Mayes for the work of The Parsonage and noted how important it was to have their support from afar. The Parsonage had previously supported others in Texas and Idaho as well; the love and support of The Parsonage knew no diocesan bounds. At this particular time of turmoil, member of The Parsonage, Glenn Noll wrote a fitting poem:
555 A Castro Street
The Parsonage is a place where God’s love shines all the time,
I can go there and feel God’s presence and it touches this heart of mine.
People can go there to stop and rest and take the load off their feet,
It’s a warm and friendly place and definitely super neat.
You’ll always see a smiling face whenever you go there,
The Parsons are one of a kind and they do care.
No matter what your problems may be, someone will always stop and talk to you,
God’s love shines through them and it can pick you up if you’re feeling blue.
The Parsonage is a rare and a very special place to me,
Because God’s love is always there and it’s a great place to be!