Today’s post is from guest blogger Sandra Worsham, author of Going to Wings, the memoir of her coming out as a Catholic lesbian. (published by Third Lung Press, August, 2017, available at independent bookstores and on Amazon.com)
“The struggle of the gay Christian’s complicated effort to reconcile sexuality and faith is often overlooked by church leaders and more secular gays. But it is a complex, and deeply engaging journey.” –George Hodgman, author of Bettyville
It has taken me seventy years to write my “coming out” memoir, Going to Wings, because I had to live it in order to write it. When I was twenty-seven years old, I tried to tell my mother that I was gay. That day of “The Telling” was a dividing point in my life. My mother’s reaction was so bad that I couldn’t follow through with my decision to be public. She said that she would have to move away, that she couldn’t live in our town if I was going to be gay.
From that day forward, and for the next thirty years, I tried to change myself. I decided that day that I would not be gay and that I would be “as good as I could be.” I would never have to feel guilty again. That period was the beginning of my leaving the Baptist Church and becoming a Catholic. The Catholic Church, I believed then, would tell me in no uncertain terms what was right and what was wrong. Not to be gay would be “right.” At age twenty-seven, I gave myself to the Catholic Church. For twenty-five years I played the organ for the Saturday night vigil, and I cantored the Psalm. Singing the Psalms was my way of praying. And I formed a close celibate relationship with my good Catholic friend, “Teeny.”
After my mother, and later, Teeny, died, I realized that for all those years, I had buried a part of myself. I got on Match.com and met someone. I began to explore all of me, even the part that I had hidden. I met Letha and, on Valentine’s Day, 2010, we were legally and spiritually married at the Second Congregational Church in Bennington, Vermont. That summer we had a wedding reception at our home in Milledgeville, Georgia, complete with a tiered cake and a guest list of over fifty people, straight and gay. I didn’t send my parish priest an invitation, but someone in the church showed him hers. She needed the priest to tell her that it would be “all right” if she attended. He told her no, that her attendance would signify approval. Then he called me into the rectory and fired me from playing the organ. This priest, who had only been at our church for a few months, didn’t know me, and he didn’t know about my many years of faithfulness to the church. Yet, I hung my head in shame and left the rectory.
As I left, he called out to me, “You and Letha are welcome to worship with us.”
I stopped and turned, “Can I receive the Eucharist?”
“Well, no, not that,” he said.
Letha and I tried to find a church together. But on the Sundays that she didn’t go with me, I knew that no church was going to give me the close feeling I had to Jesus that I had found in the Catholic Church. Yet, I was not welcome to receive communion, and I could no longer play the organ. Finally, after several years of trying other churches, I went back to talk to the priest. I told him that I was angry with him, that I needed to forgive him, and that I wanted to come back. I told him that I wanted to receive the Eucharist. He asked me if I could go to one of the surrounding churches, but not to ours. “Where you went wrong,” he said to me, “was making it public.”
I talked with Sister Jeannine Gramick from New Ways Ministry who told me that the priest could not refuse me if I came to him in the communion line. “They are not supposed to presume,” she said. She told me that my going to communion might make the priest feel uncomfortable but that he would get used to it. I talked with the priest again before I went back to communion, not in the confessional, but in a face-to-face conversation. I told him that I had missed mass for a long time. I told him that I had tried to join the Reformation. I did not refute my marriage, I did not express sorrow for being in a gay relationship, and I did not ask his permission to receive the Eucharist.
Sister Jeannine told me that I had a mission: the more people I told about being gay, the more tolerant people would become. But she warned me that things would not be easy, that the servant could not expect more than the Master. Many times when I go to mass, the priest seems to rise up like a big black shadow with wide bat wings, obscuring my view of the altar. I keep reminding myself that there is hope in Pope Francis.
Letha and I are happy. We have a good marriage. I sit in my chair and read and write. She draws intricate designs on a pad. I’ve written my story as a book, Going to Wings which has been published, and the enthusiasm and support have been overwhelming. I have told my story, and Letha designed the cover.
What about the title Going to Wings? On Tuesdays we meet our friends for dinner at The Brick, a restaurant in downtown Milledgeville, Georgia. When they first invited us to come to “Wings,” I thought, Cool! An expression of new-found freedom!
“Nope!” they said. “The chicken wings are cheap on Tuesdays.”
But for me, “Going to Wings” means a lot more than that.
–Sandra Worsham, September 15, 2017