When my son was a pre-teen, he became an acolyte in our church (Episcopal). He loved serving at the altar, was active in the youth group, attended an Episcopal high school. He loved (and still loves) the beauty of the liturgy, and was so attentive to detail that he was the one people asked for to serve at weddings, baptisms, funerals, and was always crucifer or thurifer on Christmas, Easter, and other high mass occasions. He was a favorite of the Bishop, who always requested that he serve for confirmations. The compliments he received were numberless and frequent. Tall, handsome, reverent, detail-oriented, he was the epitome of the parish acolyte.
In a tearful, gut-wrenching episode, he came out to me in his late teens and changed forever my understanding of what it means to be a gay youth. Through him, God was able to change my heart and open my mind to the reality of gay teens – the pain, the fear, the incredible efforts to conceal his true self.
About this time, our long-time parish priest retired and the conservative element in the parish brought in a man who began to preach what had never been said from our pulpit: That homosexuality was an abomination. That gays (and Jews and others this priest considered unworthy) were going to hell. That the only way to avoid it was to renounce, repent, change his very nature. Within a year, we had heard this venom so often that our family changed parishes, and my son left the church he loved, returning only sporadically in the intervening 24 years.
He still loves God, he will attend church with me when we’re together (he lives all the way across the country), he knows that there are Episcopal churches out there that are welcoming and where he would find a home, but the betrayal was so profound that it has left him quite afraid to commit to a place. He knows how quickly acceptance can change to rejection. He knows that the very people who asked for him at the important events of their lives wouldn’t accept him into their lives on a personal level.
I believe there is at least one Episcopal priest who will have a lot to answer for when he accounts for his life and ministry.