Through all of the challenges of blogging about the experience of being gay and Christian in America I am so incredibly blessed by the many people who are coming into my life because of this conversation I am honored to host. So many loving and generous people are now a part of my journey and one of these bright souls is Gwen Thomas. I met Gwen at the Annual Meeting of The Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ. When I learned about Gwen’s leadership of faith and bold determination I invited her to share with us here a bit of her story. Not only is she sharing today but she will come again to tell us more about her journey.
Here is a first glimpse of her story, praise be to God we will get to know her better over the coming months!
When I was 14 years old, I wrote a poem called finding me. The opening lines were “Finding me has been a difficult task. Understanding what I find has been impossible to ask”. Another line read: “Just when I think I’ve got all under control, suddenly I find myself playing a different role.” I’m not sure what prompted me to write that poem. But 20 years later it would prove to be prophetic. My grandmother used to say, “God can see way down the road.” I didn’t really understand that saying when I heard her say it, but that too was a word of prophecy foretelling a truth in my life.
After a 14 year relationship, 10 of which we were married, I left my husband because I loved him too much to stay with him. I found me. Actually, I discover more about the true me that I had always been. I came out first to myself, then eventually to others as a lesbian.
I can’t say that I was always conscious of my same gender attractions. I think mainly because they were so natural that I didn’t feel odd. And also because I tend to fall in love emotionally and intellectually, which then drives my physical attraction to a person. So when I met my ex-husband, it was our fast and authentic friendship that drew me close to him. And, it was our friendship kept us in relationship for 17 years.
We connected deeply around values and spirituality. We rarely clashed in our theology. Our shared perspectives made finding a church that we felt excited about and committed to easy for us. 16 years ago, we landed at Victory Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, GA. It was a young vibrant growing church that was quickly becoming one of Atlanta’s newest mega churches. The pastor was young charismatic. He preached a bold social justice message, presented with humor and passion.
It was perfect for us. And it became the fulfillment if my 14 year finding me musing and my grandmother’s wisdom about the all-knowing God. Victory was also “finding” a new identity. After a very personal and candid sermon about his best friend who committed suicide because he was rejected and ostracized by the church for being gay, Pastor Kenneth Samuel told the congregation that he felt compelled to speak up for his friend and others who suffered like him. He announced his vision to align with the United Church of Christ, which is the leading social justice voice among mainline denominations, especially as it relates to LGBT inclusion.
I didn’t know it at the time he preached the sermon or testified about his friend, but Dr. Samuel was speaking up for me. I found my church home. I found my voice. And I found a true expression of the radically inclusive love of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Gwen Thomas serves as an associate pulpit minister at Victory for the World United Church of Christ in Stone Mountain, GA. She is also the Coordinator of the African American Roundtable for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the Pacific School of Religion. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and owns a training and consulting company called the C.A.S.T Company. The company focuses on career mapping and coaching based on a person’s personality style, interests and life experiences. Gwen is also the creator of The S.H.E. Experience, which encompasses a consulting and coaching program centered on women’s career success and whole life actualization.