I grew up in a large Victorian house in a small city in Western Massachusetts. I had, and thankfully still have, seven siblings. We span fourteen years, so it was not long that we all lived together in that house. During my growing up years, the house was filled to the brim with children, my parents, sometimes my grandmother, an aunt or two, and a cat that we called Mother.
I have lots of memories of that house and that city. And now, lo! I live in a Victorian-era parsonage. It seems like old times when our grandkids sleep over and when the house is filled with visitors. But I do wonder, where are my siblings?
The part of the “growing up house” that is on my mind today is the many closets. Some Victorian houses are short on closets, but ours was rich. They were not “walk in” but some of them were “sit in.” In the back of the closets were bureaus and it was possible for a small to middle size child to push aside the coats or dresses and climb up on the bureau top and finally find a place to be alone. Quiet. If there was a light in the closet or if you had a flashlight you could read, and for a short while no one knew where you were. I loved being closeted in those days. Every kid needs a tiny space of their own.
Even I, who is sometimes short on getting irony, know that the closet of my youth is strangely similar and very different from the closet of the rest of my life. For a long time now I have not wanted to be “in the closet” and have pushed my way out of many.
I have pushed out of closets in church and in my communities, in my neighborhood and in my state and country. I have not found the closet to be a place of relief and peace but one of pain and suffering. A place where I and other LGBTQI folks are squashed down and stuffed away and forgotten, like you might forget an old coat or a worn out pair of shoes that you have tossed in the back of a hall closet.
Closets can provide safety for a while. Closets are great places if one wants to retreat. But they are not places where people can breath or grow or be the loveliness that we were meant to be.
And so, just about every day, I find myself opening the closet door. In conversation with a stranger or a parishioner I mention my wife. Not my partner. My wife.
June is LBGTQI Pride month and I am having a grand old time wearing a rainbow scarf that was gifted to me by a woman in my town. It brightens up my otherwise drab wardrobe and it opens the door to conversation.
Our rainbow flag still hangs on the porch of the parsonage (actually it is about the fourth flag as they tend to fade away!) Even when we hear a complaint that “it is in my face” we do not take it down. Perhaps if no one thought “it is in my face” I might tuck it away for a season. Or not. I personally find it beautiful and it matches everything.
One of the most challenging things for me, as a Christian pastor, is to know that many churches and individual Christians still slam doors on me and my wife and my “sisters and brothers.” I am ashamed that my beautiful religious tradition is still being used as a way to try to keep people in the closet — or worse.
And so, even though in my heart of hearts I am a rather private “closeted person” who prefers to keep my private life private, I open that door. I have tossed away the key and I am so glad that when I think of Jesus I think of a friend who says “knock and the door shall open.”
Photo by Marguerite Sheehan.
About Marguerite Sheehan
Rev. Marguerite Sheehan is a United Church of Christ pastor presently serving Trinity Church, an ecumenical church in Shelburne Falls MA. She blogs at reverendmarguerite.wordpress.com and also writes a pastoral column for the Shelburne Falls West County Independent newspaper. She is a pastor, preacher, wife, lesbian feminist, mother, friend and grandmother.