By John M. Brett
I believed the women in my family thought Christianity meant serving cookies. My grandmother and my mother were quick to show up when they were called to do so by the church’s Fellowship Team. For one month each year, for four or even five Sundays, they dutifully and enthusiastically provided sugary treats in between our congregation’s two services. They delighted to pour coffee and fruit punch with a smile and a side of small talk, along with morning pastries. Then Grandma and Mom disappeared for the rest of the year, unless called upon again to serve as greeters. All in all, they did their part, and attended as a family for Christmas and for Easter. They showed up to church when asked. It was their way. Nevertheless, I, so quick to judge, thought them foolish. I thought their brand of Christianity insufficient.
Eager, earnest, as I grew up I sought religious and spiritual meaning, though it mostly escaped me, as the ineffable tends to do. Just like many other eager, earnest, and seemingly able-bodied, tall young men, elder members of my congregation encouraged me to go to seminary. It was an invitation I considered, and even felt called to accept, though I demurred. However self-delusional I may have been, I also knew I was gay, and even a little bit queer. My church had no gumption to support such a candidate for ministry, and I knew it. I was not so foolish as to accept their entreaties. The church’s brand of Christianity I suspected insufficient.
Yet, somewhere in the laughter of my heart, which beats with its own kind of power, I listened to another way. After years and years of a journey’s seeking, I did finally go to seminary. The walk has been and continues to be halting, laborious. It is my own faith I too often find faulty. Only fools rush in, I’ve told myself, as I have wondered if I am trustworthy for the call. Thanks to the church, and the teachings from which the church itself now begins to heal, I’m prone to judge my own queer self insufficient.
The sociable smiles of my grandmother and mother perhaps offered more trustworthy instruction, and more clearly so, than the church once did. When people expressed a need, my family’s women showed up. Women of perseverance who, like all of us, faced hardships, alcoholism and the death of children amongst them, I imagine they needed a bigger God than the church was ready to provide. They found God elsewhere most of the time, and found a way to smile anyway while serving cookies. We each needed a church not so small-minded as to judge anyone insufficient.
I lament on this Holy Week, this April Fools, that I was once the foolish one. What the church taught, I believed. I judged others; I judged myself. I left no judgment to God alone. Thankfully, I now embrace another foolishness entirely, and so does my church. As 2021 began, my baptismal congregation, Grace Lutheran–Wenatchee, WA, became a Reconciling-In-Christ congregation, affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people. Easter came early this year, for it was a long awaited resurrection. My heart now laughs with a powerful delight that tastes like fellowship, with cookies at the ready.
As I prepare to lay my grandmother to rest on Holy Saturday, to say my goodbyes, my mother’s death waits not long behind. When the pallbearers carry my grandmother to her interment, I will read a poem of my crafting in her honor, an exploration of her faith life that had little to do with the church’s liturgies. I will bless her brand of spiritual witness, as I continue to envision and live out my pastoral work with the queer community of San Francisco. I have discovered that when I am called in fellowship to show up, I do, and that’s something I have in common with the women in my family. I don’t feel foolish about it.
“and everyone calls me
an old name
as i follow out
laughing like God’s fool
behind this Jesus”
from “the calling of the disciples” by lucille clifton
John (he/hym/hys) grew up on a wheat farm in North Central Washington State, far from his current home in metropolitan San Francisco. He’s a seminarian and works as LGBTQIA+ Program Director and as a chaplain with San Francisco Night Ministry <https://sfnightministry.org> alongside the city’s unhoused folk, and the street and LGBTQIA+ communities. He’s also a proud oblate with The Companions of Dorothy the Worker. <https://www.companionsofdorothy.org> Prior to seminary, John completed his BA in Spanish and Performance Studies at Dartmouth College and served as the Executive Director of a regional legal aid program in Washington State. His favorite ministry experience to date involves offering spiritual care while in drag at a taco truck. Watch for the launch of Drag Church–San Francisco and the National Drag Church Network later this year.