October 11th is National Coming Out Day. On this day we honor our GLBTQ family who’ve come out of the closet to live as their authentic selves, in spite of the risks. There are many types of closets that good folks on the fringe fear to leave. This day is important to me, and I’d like to share my personal Coming Out Day success story with you.
I was once a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greenville, NC. I thank this congregation from the bottom of my witchy heart for being a haven when I needed one the most. For several years, they were the source of spiritual nourishment for which I’d long starved. I’d lived in isolation with my proclivities for a long decade, desperately trying to find others with whom to share this devotion. Specifically, I can thank a “Coming Out Day Sermon” in that congregation for the kick in the britches that led directly to the life of public witchery that I lead today.
Desperately Seeking WitchFriends
In 2003, I’d created an on-line forum called East NC Pagans, and for a year I’d invited others to join me for conversation at local cafes and bookstores. For a year of coffee nights I’d sit there alone for hours with my clandestine little ENCP placard on my table, reading my “Solitary” Scott Cunningham books, until eventually giving up and going home even more forlorn than before. Posters on my forum would say they were just too scared to meet me in public; what if anyone overheard us? What if their evangelical family ever found out? They could lose their job. They could lose their kids. At that time, these were real concerns for all of us.
Until a member named Richard was brave enough to post an invitation on our forum for a newly forming “Earth-Based Spirituality” discussion group he was heading up at the UU. He caught some flack from the more conservative members of his congregation for advertising outside their own membership, but I will credit his action as saving my life. This is not hyperbole. This witching life I have now is the direct result of his brave and compassionate choice to shine his light into the pagan world, just bright enough that I could find him. There were still a few older folks at the church who were of a liberal Christian persuasion, who’d never met any pagans, didn’t know what we were all about, and still scared of what weirdos might emerge from the dark recesses. That posting by Richard still rips through in my memory like a lightning bolt. Until that random weekday night in December, I’d never set foot in the UU before. That night, I was the happiest pagan on Earth; I finally found *my people.*
Fast forward to 2007; I am now a member of that congregation, and helped nurture that discussion group into a CUUPs chapter of pagan UU’s. We’d lead whole pagan Sunday services at the equinoxes, and even the more old-school elders were now accepting of us. Anne Marie Alderman became our new minister around that time. She is openly lesbian, and a Goddess Girl from way back, who encouraged the pagan’s growth and expression there. It was her excellent influence that led me to join them most Sunday mornings.
During the membership ceremony Anne Marie passed me the microphone and for the first time, I publicly said out loud, “I am a Witch, and I thank you for welcoming me here among you.” The tension of thirteen closeted years released with my tears as I choked out those words. Coming out of closets is a terrifying thing to do, my friends, regardless of which closets we’re hiding in. Much to my relief, nary a torch, nor pitchfork were raised; just loving, smiling, welcoming faces. That alone healed huge wounds of fear I’d carried since my childhood.
A Welcoming Congregation
The value of this group of conscientious people is way more than just their allowance of pagans to practice among them. This UU is a designated “Welcoming Congregation” as they purposefully opened their doors and prepared for the specific needs of the GLBTQ community. This may have been why I loved them the most, as it was originally the homophobic theology of my childhood church that drove me away from Christianity in the first place. It was during this time of my membership there that I was also able to accept, explore and profess out loud that I am bi-sexual. Thanks to that community support, that part of myself is a non-issue.
Coming Out Day SermonThe Sunday during Coming Out week in October of 2007, fell during the year that I was mourning my mother’s death, and considering my own call to the Priestesshood in Witchcraft. I was also struggling against the inevitable end of my marriage that this choice would cause, and the question of how to make a living moving forward. Anne Marie’s sermon was an appeal to our congregation to openly advertise our “welcoming” status in a big, bold way in our town, regardless of how the locals might react. I remember her painting a picture of our little church tucked down a side-street, way off the beaten path, hard to find in a sea of less-accepting options.
She spoke about the importance of those of us who can afford to step out into the light of day to let ourselves be easily found by those who need us the most. That we join our voices in a chorus so we could be heard above the insipid homophobic message of this society. Her message was that it wasn’t quite enough that we’d created this safe space for gay folks, we had to light it up and make that really obvious. Turn on the spotlights; put up a billboard. By our excellent UU example, we could build up a respectable reputation for Welcoming everyone in our community. Those of us who CAN live openly, should. This way, it would make it more safe for the rest of us to eventually “come out” and live openly with us. Strength in numbers, and all that.
I remember her saying something like, “Gay people need an easily found presence on MainStreet USA, not just hiding out on the fringes. Who else should set the example, if not this congregation?” Well, I don’t know exactly what she said, but this is what I heard… She spoke a Divine Message directly to my Spirit. My personal message that day was about providing sanctuary for my still-closeted pagans – and a significant number of us are somewhere on the GLBTQ rainbow. It was during this sermon that I clearly received my marching orders to open my shop, The Sojourner, to be an openly found temple of Divine Love in the heart of our downtown.
Moral of the Story:
Coming Out day 2007, I understood my sacred mission to proudly build this lighthouse. I accepted that my devotional service would be to stoke the Witchflame in that lighthouse so brightly that all pagans and witches in my area could easily find their way out of their closets, too. It took a lot of work, a lot of risk and loss and heartache, but we opened our doors in March of 2009. In a few months we will celebrate a decade of successful business here. Since then, we’ve founded a mystery school that openly teaches the Craft, year-round. Ask anyone in Greenville, and even if it still terrifies them, I bet they can tell you exactly where to find “those witches downtown.” We’re sorta infamous like that. <cackle> Bottom line is that we devote ourselves to being the friendly face of acceptance to whomever crosses our threshold, no matter which colors you’re flying.
Every action we take to move into the light makes a difference. Many collective actions into the light add up like a focused laser-beam to blast through barriers and create needed change to our social landscape. Case in point: last week I was doing some research when I found my way to this wikipedia page for my town. I am delighted to report our progress reflected in this last line: “Greenville also has a growing Pagan community.”
On this coming out day, I encourage you all to take whatever actions you can to shine your beautiful light into the world – whichever rainbow color of light that might be. I promise it makes a difference in the long run. Know that the forces of Divine Love are on our side, and love always wins over hate. You are beautiful, and you matter. This Witch has got your back.
Blessed Coming Out Day,