Thursday, March 13, 2008

Linda W. - Atlanta

Linda W., a member of Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta, has volunteered to speak to several of the North Georgia Conference delegates about her story and her concerns for the future of the United Methodist Church. She has shared her comments below.

Thank you for meeting with me today. I wanted to talk with you about my support and concerns for the United Methodist Church. I have been a member since 2001 and feel I have truly found a home there. My story of how I got there goes back about 15 years to when I came out as a Lesbian to my family. It was at Christmas while I was back in Louisiana visiting my family of origin. My partner of 13 years and I had spent all of our Christmases apart and decided we wanted to spend that important holiday together. So while I was home, back in Louisiana, I told my mother and brother and sister. My mother said she still loved me no matter what. My brother said he had already figured it out. My sister, however, did not have such a supportive reaction. The weather was cold and cloudy and we were in the car headed to the mall for some last minute shopping when I came out to her. I was driving and she was sitting in the passenger seat; her first response was, “I don’t want you to tell my boys.” (She had four sons.) I said, “I would never do that, it’s not my place.” That’s pretty much all that was said but she wrote me a letter later and said, I would “always be her sister” and she would “always love me and as long as we didn’t talk about my lifestyle, our relationship would be fine”. I wrote back and said if we couldn’t talk about my life then we couldn’t talk about her life so I guess we would have nothing to talk about. So we stopped talking to each other and didn’t see each other for a long time – about eight years.

Meanwhile, I found myself single after being coupled for 20 years. So I had no family, no partner and felt very alone in the world. I guess maybe a lot of people turn to God at times like this and that’s what I did. I was raised in the Baptist church and knew I wouldn’t be welcome there so I started looking around for a church. I had friends who went to Saint Mark so I gave it a try. I was amazed that I could be in a church that accepted me for who I am. I felt safe and comfortable and even welcomed. I like the traditional aspects of church but never thought I would find a mainstream church that I would fit into, that would actually use the words Gay and Lesbian with love from the church pulpit! It was a miracle! I started attending and became active in the church and attended the Couples Class (even though I was single – my friends were a couple and they just took me with them).

Then I got breast cancer and two years later, leukemia. I had no family that could provide any help and I was no longer in a relationship - so my support system consisted of my family of choice and my church family. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for them. The doctor came in my hospital room one day and explained the treatment protocol – after I got out of the hospital, I would have to go to the clinic every day and would get chemotherapy for several months. I would probably have multiple hospitalizations, I needed to have someone with me 24/7 for the first few months, I would have to close my practice for at least a year and I would get a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible. I wouldn’t be allowed to drive, couldn’t work in the yard, be around people, or go out in public. I couldn’t have any fresh fruits or vegetables to eat and could have no fresh flowers or plants in the house. I’ll never forget that day. I looked at him and thought to myself, “You’ve lost your mind! How in the world was I going to manage this? I’m single, I live alone, I’m self-employed – this is impossible!”

But I knew about the Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative and they helped organize a care team for me. One of my very dearest friends took the leadership role and met with ALCI and my close friends and church family to put my care team in place. At one point, I was seriously considering whether or not to go ahead with the transplant – in other words, to get treatment or to die from leukemia. Part of that decision was how in the world would I arrange transportation and care during all those months? But my care team took care of all of that. They made up a schedule and arranged for someone to take me to the clinic and pick me up every single day for about nine months. Think about the hassle of just dropping off your car to get it worked on one day and having to get a ride to work and back to the car place. Now multiply that by about 1000! And they scheduled people to be with me, to spend the night with me, to bring me food. That’s one thing our Sunday School class is really good at – providing food. I had so much food in the freezer, I couldn’t eat it all. And not just casseroles – I’m talking chicken cordon bleu! I could let go of worrying about the logistics of the treatment protocol (how would I get back and forth to the clinic, who would stay with me, how would I feed myself), I could just focus on healing and getting well. I could let go of that stress and concentrate on dealing with the physical and emotional side effects of chemotherapy and immuno-suppressant drugs. That’s the job that they took on and this was not a short-term project – this has lasted for two years now.

I still can’t believe it. I was and am so incredibly blessed. To me, there is no better demonstration of Christ’s love in action. My church family and friends took care of me in the place of my family of origin. This is a church that not only talks the talk but also walks the walk. This is the type of church that I want to be a part of – this is a church that includes all people and wraps their arms around everyone as Jesus Christ himself did.

Today, I think one of the biggest challenges the United Methodist Church faces is membership. Traditional religion and mainstream churches are losing members as people look for the relevance to their lives and react to the hypocrisy they hear from so-called Christians. I think the survival of the United Methodist Church depends on how we treat people and how we welcome them or reject them. And this includes ALL people – even the homeless person who wanders in off the streets on Sunday morning just to get warm. Christ invited ALL people to follow him, to be a part of his church. And we are all members of the body of Christ – to restrict membership or discriminate against anyone regarding their rights of membership is to cut off that part of the body of Christ. To be the true body of Christ, all members must be welcomed, affirmed and made a true part of the church through full inclusion and equal participation. Our slogan, Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors – is that for real or just a marketing technique? I was so proud to be a Methodist when that slogan came out – it epitomizes for me what it truly means to be a Christian. I just hope and pray we can live up to it. Because of that, I ask you to guard against granting “pastoral authority” which would give pastors the right to discriminate against anyone and to vote for full inclusion of LGBT people.


Anonymous said...

Powerful story. God bless you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story Linda. Those of us who know you continue to be blessed by your uplifting spirit.