“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God.”
— Isaiah 40:1
— John 11:35
I didn’t cry on Tuesday.
I didn’t cry on Wednesday.
I didn’t cry on Thursday.
I cried on Friday.
I saw Steve Sprecher, Assistant to the Bishop, in the parking lot one day. We were both on our way to work. He smiled and waved. I smiled and said, “I just can’t seem to get away from you crazy Methodists.”
Because I now work in the office of Portland First United Methodist Church, my purple Honda with its rainbow bumper sticker could easily be parked next to Ed’s. In my own small way I hope that the Bishop remembers me and knows that the 1994 Honda is mine.
When significant ecumenical events occur, they often occur at Portland First. Tuesday was no exception. I had driven to work in a state of shock and puzzlement. The events of the morning seemed more like a bad Bruce Willis movie than reality. Because I now work in the office of Portland First United Methodist Church, I spent the day attending to the details that would allow a large ecumenical service to be held in our sanctuary. It was a long day. I did not go to the service.
Wednesday and Thursday were more normal days … if days could ever be “normal” again.
Friday was the day the President had asked the nation to pray. We scheduled a time of prayer and meditation in the chapel. Because I now work in the office of Portland First United Methodist Church, I spent the morning answering the phone with everyone asking if there was a noon service at the church. One of the people who called was Kevin.
Kevin came to the church early to ask if there was anything he could do to help. He was in Oregon on vacation from New York. His uncle had been killed in the destruction of the Trade Center. His flight home had been canceled. He was stuck in Portland. He wanted to help.
Kevin is gay. How did I know Kevin was gay? In the gay community we call people like Kevin “very gay.” Maybe it was the rainbow necklace … or the way he spoke with his hands … but the biggest give away was his gay accent. Most gay men have an accent. It is not necessarily all hair-dressery, just a slight accent. Kevin’s was all hair-dressery and he talked with his hands in the way that very gay men talk with their hands.
Just before noon on Friday, the chapel began to fill with people. Kevin was one of the first to arrive. He asked if it was okay that he kept his baseball cap on because there were lesions on his head. I told him to think nothing about it. By noon I could see that the chapel was going to be too small for this prayer service. The people began flooding in. Kevin came and asked if there was anything to he could do to help. I asked him to help set up folding chairs, which he gladly did. His face beamed as he placed each chair in the aisle. And then we need chairs to accommodate the overflow outside the chapel. Kevin pushed a cart of more chairs. Then we needed more hymnals. The chapel was designed for slightly over one hundred people. People were standing against the wall. People were packed in the chapel foyer. And Kevin handed each one a hymnal like he was a paperboy on his first paper route. He passed out those red Methodist hymnals like he was a Catholic priest distributing the transubstantiated body of Christ … like he was the youngest child at Christmas who got to distribute the presents from under the tree. Ed, I wish would could have seen him pass out those goddamn hymnbooks. It broke my heart.
I wanted to rush up to Kevin and say, “Kevin, I’m gay too. I used to be a pastor. I used to pastor a church that had gay people in it. Kevin, I want to be your pastor and comfort you in your loss. Kevin, I want you to comfort me in my loss. I’ve lost something and I’m not even sure what it is that I’ve lost but now because of you, I know I have lost something. Are you dying, Kevin? It’s none of my business. It used to be my business. I’m gay too, Kevin.”
But all I said was, “Kevin, thanks for your help today.” Then the service began.
Even though the chapel was way too small, I was glad that the service was in the chapel and that we were all jammed together in this. I was glad that it wasn’t comfortable. I was glad that Kevin sat outside the chapel near me. I was glad I could see his face. It still had that “I-passed-out-the-hymnals” glow.
There were prayers and scripture readings. A mother rocked an infant in her arms. A young office worker dab tears from her eyes. An American flag poked out of the back pocket of a teenager in blue jeans. I did not cry.
The next hymn was, “Abide with Me.”
Abide with me fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
I did not cry.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day. Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I did not cry.
I need Thy presence every passing hour. What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be? Thro’ cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me.
Tears began to flow down my face. I glanced at Kevin. He was weeping openly, perhaps for the loss of an uncle or the larger more incomprehensible loss.
Ed, I can understand that rules are rules. An openly gay man cannot be a pastor. All I ask is that you make sure someone knows that Kevin is gay and that he really, really loved passing out your hymnbooks.
One day my father came home and said that a woman had come into the shop who did not know how to read. He felt that it would be good for me (a seventh grader?) to teach her how to read. At the time I did not realize that this was not something that every father entrusted to their sons, the education of strangers. That night I prepared a poster using phonics to help with simple words. The next day a woman with short, dirty hair came to our house. My mother nervously welcomed her at the door. I stood next to my phonics chart. My memory fails from that point. Did she learn to read? Did she come back a second time? What was her name? What I remember most is the smell of the black magic marker as I made the phonics poster and the smile on my face as I printed out: CAT, HAT, BAT, FAT, MAT. I was going to help someone learn to read.