Sometimes I Feel Like an old Bull Dyke….
“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” That song has been running through my head lately, only with the words I used in the title above.
I am a minister. Being a minister is always hard work. There is a reason people struggle against a call to ministry. “Oh no, not me, God, send somebody else.”
But we are called. We know it deep in our bones and we have to say yes to that call. Resistance to that call is futile.
Ministers are called to serve, to comfort, and yes, sometimes, to challenge and confront. I am serving in a specialized kind of ministry, a ministry with a congregation that has a troubled history and long established patterns of dysfunctional behavior. Ah, but it is also a congregation with a proud history, and it is filled with people yearning for something more that what they have been. Old patterns are hard to change, however, and this ministry has required me to point out systemic problems and to be relatively firm in maintaining what I consider to be appropriate boundaries.
I never expected this particular ministry to be easy. I never expected people to agree with everything I thought should be done or not done. Reasonable and caring people can disagree about how to do things, and any change also brings some loss with it. Pain and anger are so close together in most of our hearts. Some anger is to be expected. I have felt strongly, however, that if I did not raise the issues I thought were important, then I would be failing this congregation in the ways that matter most. Ministry should not be about just coasting along, about taking the path of least resistance, about always doing what some or even most of the people say they want. Passover is almost upon us. What would it been like if Moses had said, “oh, ok, you all don’t like it here in the desert, sure, let’s just go back to Egypt, no problem.” And no, I don’t think I am a Moses. But you know, Moses didn’t see himself that way either: “Send someone else.”
I also expected that some in the congregation would have issues with a minister exercising any real authority, even and perhaps especially over worship. Quality in worship is important to me. Mediocre just isn’t good enough to offer to folks that are hurting or who are seeking more meaning in their lives. We need to hold our worship time as sacred.
What I did not expect, although maybe I should have, was the way the criticisms would play out. Very little is about actual things I have done or not done. No, the real critique is pretty much all about my style.
My style is pretty direct. I grew up working class, among people who said what they thought. I am also a lesbian, a dyke if you will, and although I don’t identify as transgender, I definitely don’t fit many of the feminine stereotypes. I come off as both assertive and confident. I always try to be respectful, but when I have an opinion, I express it clearly. This style is freaking a few folks out.
It didn’t occur to me for quite a awhile, but in the last week it has become pretty clear that part of the dynamic going on between me and a small group of my congregants is simply because of who I am and what this congregation has experienced in the past. I am their first openly gay minister. I am also only the second woman minister in their over 50 years of existence. This is very unusual for a UU congregation. We have as members a few gay men, a handful of trans folk, and a number of people who identify as bisexual. So far anyway, I have met no one else here who is an open lesbian.
This congregation has a history of expressing suspicion and hostility toward most of their ministers. I expected that as well. But there is an undercurrent in a lot of it that I don’t think would exist if I were either a male or a straight minister. Hostile people will use whatever weapons they have available. Homophobia will come out, if it exists, during a conflict, just as racism will. Even among liberals and self defined radicals and progressives. It is in our culture and individuals can’t always help it, but it is also important to name it when it happens.
I have been accused of “unwelcome touching.”
I have been called a bully.
I think they were really calling me a bull dyke.
I think they are afraid of me.
I hope I can find a way to walk with them through that fear. It isn’t everybody. It is only two or three people that seem to be acting out of a deep, maybe even a subconscious, fear. One won’t agree to talk to me directly, even with a facilitator. There are a number of other people that don’t agree with me about one thing or another, but they are willing to talk with me about those issues. That’s normal, respectful, and reasonable. If we can talk to each other, we can also listen. Ministry is about listening as well as leading. That, too, I know in my bones. What I am hearing now from a few people is fear.
We’re all a long way from home. Give us the courage we need for the journey,