Sermon by Sylvia Jantz
When Bob asked us to talk in church today I really wasn’t sure what it was that you wanted to hear. I got the idea from someone that you might want to hear about how I have kept my faith through the things that have gone on here around me being gay and around Claribel and my commitment ceremony. I, never in a million years, wanted to stand up in front of a church and talk about that. You’ve never heard me stand up at sharing time and ask for any special favors, or ask that you support the cause of other people like me. I never wanted to be the cause of the struggle that has gone on with Weldon’s credentials. I’ve never asked anyone to change or even consider changing their beliefs around homosexuality. I’m well aware of what people think. I’ve accepted my family for who they are even though I have been called a disgrace to them and a disgrace to all of mankind and have been compared to a murderer and I accept each of you as well no matter what you think of me. I did speak to you in Adult Study about my life, but again, not really my cup of tea. I’d prefer to be looked upon as just Sylvia, not “Sylvia the Lesbian”.
I came to this church upon moving to the Seattle area in the summer of 1993. I had moved here with someone who has since passed on. I don’t wish to speak unkindly of that person but during that time I was not able to have any contacts outside of work and this church. At the time I desperately wanted to stay after church on Sundays to make some deeper connections but that was not possible. But coming here on Sunday mornings was my lifeline anyway. The reason I found this church was because when I moved here I called the offices in Newton and asked them where I could go to a Mennonite church in Seattle if I was gay and they gave me your info right away. All I wanted was a place to worship God and connect with other Mennonites and be nurtured and maybe serve.
My growing up years centered around Eden Mennonite Church there in OK and I attended Hesston College as well. At Eden I was in the church any time the doors were open and sometimes when they were not since I knew where to find the key and we were the closest house to our country church. My mom headed up Women’s Sewing Society and my Dad dug graves, mowed the lawn and turned on the furnace in the winter. I went to every convention, acted in skits, played in the church band, sang in the choir, went to Bible Memory Camp (yes, the one were you had to wear dresses only) and Church camp, rang bells and went on MDS trips every chance I got because I loved to swing a hammer. I was the church and the church was me.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:1 From Paul, a missionary of Jesus Christ, sent out by the direct command of God our Savior and by Jesus Christ our Lord – our only hope.
At the front of our church hung a handpainted framed picture of a beautiful green pasture over rolling hills with a lovely white chapel on the far hill and sheep grazing in the foreground. Words on the painting declared, “Christ is our Hope”. Ironically, directly above the chapel in the blue sky was a bullet hole. This gave that picture an even deeper meaning to me as I pictured someone coming through the back door with a rifle during the church service and realized that indeed, Christ really was our only hope of surviving. But indeed, for me “Christ is our hope” sums up what I believe about my own living and salvation. I believe that I need to live as Jesus taught, to be compassionate and kind to others, to treat all people as equals, to love my enemy and do good to those who might not be so kind to me. To not be Proud and Haughty, to not worry about tomorrow, (although I did plenty of worrying about standing up here in front of you today.) To forgive, to love…and to remember that I am a child of God as well, that I was created in God’s image, that God did not make some kind of mistake when he fashioned me and that I do have the hope of salvation just like everyone else.
Where did my faith come from?
My faith came from a mother who led daily devotions, sang gospel music (the Chuck Wagon Gang) and listened to the “Back to the Bible” radio program. It came from a hardworking dad who I struggled with and only learned to love later in life, from 3 brothers who challenged my faith, turned me on the Larry Norman, encouraged me to be involved, from 3 sister-in-laws who acted as moms to me after my mom passed away and from my 8 nieces and nephews who helped me find my passion and understand why Jesus said that we must become as children to see the kingdom of Heaven. Of course my nonstop involvement in church played a big part including many Wed. nights at Bible Memory class which my mom was in charge of and which got me to Bible Memory Camp. My faith became stronger as I called upon God in times of need and he answered me by providing inner peace and strength during times of trial such as when my mother died. He has brought me through other times of great stress and sadness, times I don’t wish to recount but all of these experiences have made me the person I am with the faith that I have. I’m not sure that once you have found faith if you can ever really lose it, you can ignore it or not use it but my faith is a part of me.
Living out my faith now:
Involves trying to live as Jesus taught, being kind to all of his children, being a peacemaker, being compassionate. We give monetarily to the church and to those in need. The most Christ like person I know is my partner, Claribel. I’ve seen her use the last of her money to buy Christmas gifts for children that she thought weren’t going to be getting much or diapers, toilet paper and laundry detergent for a family who’s only wish was to have enough of those things just once. Bible reading is always a work in progress but the verses that I memorized in my youth come back to me often. I talk with the creator regularly and have always felt that I have had God’s sheltering hand over me. My thankfulness knows no bounds. We are teaching Rudy to pray and he loves to look at his kid’s Bible. I’ve traveled with members of this church to the Hopi Reservation for service work, to Malawi, Africa to build a home. I’ve taught Sunday School, cared for the nursery and Claribel and I helped on an MDS project.
What makes using my faith and being a member of this church difficult?
Trying not to be angry and trying to get beyond the fact that people are looking at me and judging me as someone who has chosen to be a sinner, knowing that some people do not even want to look at me or speak to me because I am gay, knowing that some people think I am a danger to children even though I have dedicated my life to serving children, knowing that some people think that because I am “Me” and I have chosen to share my life with Claribel that I am tearing apart the fabric of this good society that we live in. Really, sometimes it just makes me want to stay home.
What do I want?
Someone asked me that the other day and I said “just leave me alone!” But really, that’s too simplistic. I want the same thing I wanted when I first came here 13 years ago. A place to worship and feel safe and loved and cared for and to do the same for others. I don’t want to be “The issue” that divides the church, I don’t want to be the target, I don’t want to be a spectacle…the centerpiece on the Thanksgiving Table that everyone has to whisper about and wonder why the hostess would put something so ugly on the middle of such a beautiful table and somebody should just do her a favor and throw it out right away because it’s spoiling everyone’s appetite. What I really want would be for everyone to walk in the shoes of a gay person for just ONE DAY. And if you want to ask me “Why are you gay?” I would give the same answer to you as I have given to my little friends over the years when they say “Miss Sylvia, why do you look like a BOY!” I say “Well, you’ll have to talk to God about that because he’s the one who made me this way.”
What am I thankful for?
It is a complete mystery to me, why so many of you have been so overwhelmingly supportive. That is the honest truth and I can only attribute it to the goodness of people who are trying to be true followers of Jesus. I could never say enough to thank all of you that have been supportive over the years. When I was newly single and in a very deep depression Rob and Lee invited me to Thanksgiving dinner along with others in the church…that probably saved my sanity at the time. Of course Weldon and Marg, they were there for me in hard times, even letting me stay at their house for awhile (and feeding me, too) and in good times, supporting Claribel and I with counseling and prayer as we prepared to publicly commit our lives to each other. There was Marilyn and Dirk who hosted a reception for Claribel and me after we had our wedding ceremony. I really don’t want any special favors but that makes the kindness of others even more amazing and humbling.
I also have a thankful heart for my mother who passed away in 1977. The greatest gift she gave me was loving me just as I was and not asking me to change to someone who fit the more stereotypical “daughter”. She let me climb trees, ride motorcycles, drive tractors, play basketball and wear pants all the time…except, of course, to church on Sunday mornings.
I am also thankful for my Aunt Neva and Uncle Bill (or the Reverend William Unrau) who, when I came out to them in 1992 said, “Oh, we don’t think there is anything wrong with you, you are one of us.” They continue to support my family and Uncle Bill helped me put together today’s talk and find the scriptures. At every phonecall they remind me that we are part of their family…In their words I here God saying the same thing to us.
There are a few things that are going to have to happen here for Claribel and Rudy and I to feel comfortable.
Number 1: This needs to be a place where Rudy will be accepted as just another kid from just another Mennonite family. I want him to be able to go to convention and do other church activities without being pointed at and made to feel like an oddball. He has to feel accepted and safe. It seems like church should be that place. This means that you will have to be able to tell your own children that Rudy has two mommies…because he does. I would also pray that others in the congregation who are gay or struggling with other issues of sexuality would not have to leave here to find love and support. Do all of God’s critters really have a place in the choir? I’m hoping so.
Number 2: As a church, we should eventually make some kind of open decision to either accept me or not accept me. You might say Oh, Sylvia, this isn’t really about you.” Well, yes it is. And what are we doing here anyway?…deciding who we think is the worst sinner and where to draw the line between people? Is the church really NOT for everyone? Just so you are aware, there are many churches in the Seattle area who have openly said they will accept people like me into their congregations. I went online because I wanted to read the list to you but it turns out there were over 55 churches signed up on the open and affirming list. Anyway, we really want to continue going to church here but it is very stressful to keep coming to church only to find out we are the topic of discussion again. I mean put yourselves in our shoes…please! Maybe we should spend our energy elsewhere like on peacemaking, saving this planet, health care for all, or how to help the countless children who are abused and neglected. Maybe we could just all agree to love each other as children of God and accept that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and maybe we could just travel this road together in peace.
“One door and only one and yet it’s sides are two, I’m on the inside on which side are you.”
Let’s not put up that door at the entrance of our church and judge who must be kept out.
Thank you for listening.