Lining the walls of the Poling Chapel inside the First Reformed Church of Schenectady, more than 20 colorful vestment stoles are on display.
Each is part of a larger collection of stoles representing the story of a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender religious leader who is unable to serve their congregation because of their sexual orientation. Others represent anonymous leaders who are afraid to come out because of possible resentment from those they serve.
More than 1,400 stoles and other sacred items have been collected since the “Shower of Stoles Project” began in 1995. Portions of the exhibit are displayed in accepting congregations and denominations across the country, and at other LGBT forums working towards equal rights.
“We brought the display to our congregation to represent our welcome of all people and our heartbreak over those who cannot follow their calling or dreams because of their sexual orientation,” said Stacey Midge, a minister at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady.
Joe Doolittle, a member of the church and it’s Social Justice Committee, worked to bring the display to Schenectady along with his wife, Gay.
The couple are a part of a not-for-profit organization that advocates for the participation of LGBT peoples within the Reformed Church of America, called “Room For All.”
“Many people believe the Bible says homosexuality is against God, but if you look carefully you won’t find that message,” said Doolittle at the opening of the display on Sunday. “Jesus mentions nothing about sexual orientation. He just says we should love and respect one another.”
Midge and Doolittle explained there are seven passages in the Bible often used by those who favor traditional male and female relationships to interpret homosexuality as wrong. However, they said those verses are vague, can be translated differently and are sometimes misquoted to fit an agenda.
“Homosexuality, how we think of it now, didn’t exist back then,” said Midge. An analytical interpretation of those seven verses can be found on the church’s website.
The Shower of Stoles Project began more than a decade ago when Martha Juillerat was defrocked as a Presbyterian minister in rural Missouri after coming out as a lesbian. Her partner, Tammy Lindahl, was also a minister. Knowing they were only two of hundreds of LGBT people active within religious communities, they asked their friends and colleagues to decorate and send a stole to the Presbyterian Church.
Since then thousands have been contributed, either by LGBT religious leaders or congregations showing their support of the movement.
A personal story is sent along with each stole, but some are signed anonymous out of fear.
One displayed stole was donated by Dr. Rev. Ellen Acton in honor of her daughter, Ida, who is gay. She is a pastor of Southfield Presbyterian Church in Southfield, Mich.
Her story reads, “When I was born, women could not be ordained in the Presbyterian Church. I am part of a first generation of clergywomen in my tradition. Now my daughter could not follow me in ministry, if she wanted, because she is a lesbian. Aren’t we stifling the Holy Spirit?”
Some signature stoles have been donated by local religious institutions as a sign of support for LGBT people.
One from Emmanuel Baptist–Friedens United Church of Christ in Schenectady reads, “Don’t be afraid to be different.” Another was donated by the Student Group of Union College in 1998.
A third was donated by the Presbyterian-New England Congregation Church in Saratoga Springs in honor of Rev. Anthony Green. Green was invited by the church to become its pastor, but his installation was put on hold because of complaints about his sexual preference. He eventually took a position with a different church.
“Like our motto says, we are a welcoming congregation and we want everyone to know that about us,” said Midge about the First Reformed Church of Schenectady.
Three other local churches — First Church and Bethany Reformed in Albany, and First Reformed Church of Bethlehem — will have different portions of the exhibit on display until the end of the month. A community open house will be held on Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Poling Chapel at 8 N. Church Street, Schenectady.
For more information about the Shower of Stoles Project, visit its website at www.welcomingresources.org/sosp.
For information on the local displays of the project, visit the church’s website at 1streformed.com.
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