I’m a man of the cloth. I wear a robe.
As an ordained United Methodist pastor, I sometimes wear a robe when I preach and lead worship. Okay, I don’t wear it all that often any more now that I’m doing campus ministry (mostly wear jeans and one of those hip short sleeve shirts tucked out), but I do still wear it several times a year when I perform weddings or guest preach at area churches. But it’s not just any robe. It used to be Ron’s.
I grew up in St. Paul, MN and attended Hamline UMC (United Methodist Church). A woman named Beryl Hillstrom was the director of Christian education. She had a son named Ron who was a few years older than me.
Eventually, I attended the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. The year I arrived there, the majority of that student body were active in the “Vote NO on 2!” campaign to try to sway Colorado voters to not vote for an amendment to their State Constitution which would have legalized discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens. I learned quickly about those matters and was soon swayed to become pro-LGBTQI … but primarily on a heady, intellectual level.
It wasn’t until I was ordained after earning my Masters of Divinity degree that I came to own that pro-gay stance on a more heart-felt level. Before the ordination service took place, Beryl gave me a present — the clerical robe worn by her son Ron when he was a pastor.
I learned that her son had also become an ordained United Methodist pastor and that he ended up in ministry in Colorado like me. I also learned that he had been forced out of his ministry due to his being gay. And, I learned that he died of AIDS. I was being given the gift of wearing the robe that had been worn by an oppressed gay man who died of AIDS.
Sadly, not every Christian pastor would appreciate such a gift, let alone want to wear it. I told her thank you and tears flowed from my eyes as I donned that heavy vestment. It turns out that Ron was exactly the same size as me. We were both white Minnesota boys who were United Methodist Christians and who had decided to respond to God’s calling to devote our lives to ministries of love and service. The only difference between us was in who we were oriented to love romantically.
All at once, all of the intellectual, biblical, and theological discoveries that I had made to sway me to adopt a pro-Gay stance … fell like leaves on a windy November day. I got it. Indeed, it got me. The ominous power of that robe’s story and heritage adopted me into it’s story. It would be hypocritical for me to wear that robe and to preach any message other than compassion, inclusion, and God’s radical grace and love. To the extent that I’m in any way loving toward people who don’t happen to be straight, to the extent that I am comfortable giving hugs to people with HIV or AIDS, to the extent that I am an advocate for LGBTQI persons, to the extent that I give a damn about the 8,000 people who die from AIDS every day and the children who are orphaned because of it… that robe gets a lot of the credit.
On this World AIDS Day I hereby rededicate myself to my commitment to love and I reaffirm my vows to due justice to Ron’s legacy and to seek to ensure that all people who encounter me in that robe – experience love, love for them, love for the oppressed, and love for God’s justice and peace.
Thank you Ron. I never really knew you, but I know your heart. It’s the heart of Jesus, and I promise to do my best to help work toward a world where all of God’s people are loved and accepted.
your brother in the cloth,
p.s. To learn more about how Christian churches are rising up to the plate to make a difference in the world by calling attention to AIDS and seeking to create a world free of it, check out The Center for Church & Global AIDS; WORLD AIDS DAY
To learn more about why Christians should accept and welcome homosexuality see: Walter Wink; Mel White; Confessions of a Former Sodomite; Reconciling Ministries Network; — oh, and be sure to read up on what Jesus had to say about homosexuality. ; )
Roger Wolsey is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity and he is an active member of The Christian Left Facebook page. This post originally appeared at The Elephant Journal.