Across The Region & In My Heart
Rev. Allen V. Harris
Regional Pastor & President
Hopefully by now you have seen one or more of our wonderfully successful social media posts celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander month in May. We lifted up four leaders across Ohio who shared in their own words a bit of their history and why such a month of celebration and education is important. I found them absolutely fascinating and deeply moving, even though I thought I already knew these leaders. You can find their stories and pictures on our Regional Church website here: /ccio-blog/2022/june/7/asian-american-pacific-islander-month.aspx
Similarly, June is considered Pride Month for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. This time of education and celebration is important to the Christian Church in Ohio for many reasons, but first and foremost we have congregations who have done the faithful and good work of studying, prayerfully discerning, committing themselves, and proclaiming the good news that, like Peter after his vision in Acts 10, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” They are officially Open & Affirming Congregations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). These congregations include:
- Carthage Christian Church in Cincinnati
- Compass Christian Church in Mason
- Firestone Park Christian church in Akron
- First Christian Church in Cuyahoga Falls
- Franklin Circle, Christian Church in Cleveland
- First Christian Church in Findlay
- Heights Christian Church in Shaker Heights
- Northwest Christian Church in Columbus
And two ecumenical campus ministries, United Christian Ministry at Ohio University and United Christian Ministries at Kent State University.
Much of the ministry of the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance is focuses on helping individual Christians, churches, and communities of faith to understand the expansive and inclusive breadth of God’s call to persons who are same gender loving and/or gender diverse. The Alliance Q, as it is called informally, is led by Reverend Melissa Guthrie, Executive Director (pictured right).
Our own Reverend Luther Young is currently the moderator of the Alliance (pictured left).
Several resources from Alliance Q that creatively help individuals understand and appreciate the faith and lives of LGBTQ+ people are:
- The Virtual Pulpit Supply which provides communities of faith video sermons and worship resources throughout the year. Reverend Judy Alston, Reverend Luther Young, and I have contributed to this resource. You can read more about it here: http://disciplesallianceq.org/event/virtual-pulpit-supply/
- Building An Inclusive Church trainings, especially helpful for congregations considering becoming Open & Affirming. You can find out more about these trainings here: https://www.reconcilingworks.org/trainings/bic/
- A new devotional, in which I am honored to have contributed a chapter, called “Colors of Hope: A Devotional Journal from LGBTQ+ Christians.” you can read more about it here: http://disciplesallianceq.org/colors-of-hope/ They have also designed a retreat based around the devotional that will be held in the fall at our disciples of Christ conference center in North Carolina, Christmount. I I am deeply honored to have been asked to be a speaker at this retreat. Register for it here: http://disciplesallianceq.org/retreat/
You are invited to follow our Regional Church social media across the month of June to learn more about Disciples of Christ across Ohio who are LGBTQ+ and discover a new the rich diversity of the Body of Christ.
The month of June is Pride Month for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer plus communities. As part of our commitment to the rich diversity of God's world and the call for our congregations and communities to be fully Open & Affirming of All God's Children, we will be lifting up the stories of some of our lay and clergy leaders from around the Christian Church in Ohio.
First we will hear from Rev. Rick Modglin-Green, pastor of one of our Open & Affirming Congregations:
I am Rick Modglin-Green. Pride month is important to me because I can share the love of Christ with those whom the church has largely ignored and/or condemned. LGBTQ+ young people are highly likely to experience homelessness and are more prone to suicide due to the discrimination that is experienced in church, home and schools.
I grew up in Western Kentucky where I came to faith at Henshaw Christian Church (independent) when I was 13. I received my call to ministry after attending a mission conference at age 17. I could not reconcile the call to ministry with the emergence of knowing that I am also a gay man. I immediately went off to college and earned by B.S. in Business Administration Majoring in Accounting. It took me many years to reconcile being a Christian who is also a gay man. During my college days I would often pray and fast 2-3 days a week for God to “take the gay away.” God answered each and every prayer with a simple, I have created you and you are who I designed you to be.
I spent about 12 years in accounting and resigned from being the Accounting Supervisor at a Credit Union in Michigan to pastor full time. Along with a few others we had planted Praise Fellowship Christian Church (nonaffiliated) in 2000. I pastored there until November 2011. While church shopping we joined Central Woodward Christian Church (DOC), Troy Michigan where I began the process of transferring my credentials to the Disciples of Christ. The Michigan Region affirmed my ordination in 2012, and I came on staff as Associate Pastor. I also served several years on the Christian Church in Michigan’s regional board.
My husband Wes and I meet in church and have been together since 1995 with our Holy Union in 1997. We were legally married in 2013 in New York state by a DOC colleague. We now live in Findlay Ohio, with our son where I have the privilege of serving as Pastor at First Christian Church–Findlay.
My name is the Rev. Dr. Judy Ann Alston (she/her), and I am Professor and Director of the Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies at Ashland University. I hail from Charleston, SC. I earned my Ph.D. in Educational Administration from The Pennsylvania State University (1996), a M.Div. from Methodist Theological School in Ohio (2016), a M.Ed. in Educational Administration (1992) and a M.Ed. in Secondary Education (1990) both from the University of South Carolina and Bachelor of Arts in English (1987) from Winthrop College. I began my life in education as high school English teacher in 1987. For the last 26 years, I have been teaching in higher education.
Teaching and preaching in the most authentic space are my callings in this life. There is no divide between them. After many years of traversing through other denominations, I felt a pull to become a Disciple. My spirit finally felt at home and knew that I was right where God wanted me to be. I was ordained in Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 2016. I am a member of Woodland Christian Church, where I was recently called to be their Associate Pastor. I also serve as a Board of Trustees member for the National Benevolent Association. And, I am also the Regional Elder for District 9, Christian Church in Ohio. I have been married to the beautiful Dr. Cynthia Tyson for 20 years, our 21st anniversary is next month. For me, Pride is about living my life authentically – unashamedly being exactly the perfectly imperfect Black queer woman that God created me to be. My life is my ministry and my testimony.
Dr. Kate Gillooly:
I currently serve as Director of Congregational Development for Heights Christian Church in Shaker Heights. Recently I have been called to succeed the current pastor, Rev. Roger Osgood, when he retires June 30. Beginning July 1, I will serve as Transitional Minister, and I am working toward becoming a Commissioned Minister.
I have always considered myself an ally. In the past several years, I have understood ally-ship in a deeper way that has influenced my understanding of myself and what change is needed in our world. When our younger child was in high school, they came out to us as transgender. At the time we had a lot of questions, but we offered our support and love.
Over the next several months, we attended a Transfamily support group and learned all we could. Soon we were having discussions with school administrators, other parents, and youth group leaders. New doctors provided important medical care. Legal name change at the county courthouse was a big family celebration. Many professionals told me what my heart already knew - our support of our child for who he really is was important for his wellbeing. I remain grateful for all who guided us along the way, especially my son.
The experience of being thrust into a more proactive advocacy role taught me a lot about the LGBTQIA+ experience, and helped me re-examine some assumptions about gender, sexuality, and our innate tendency to put people in boxes. It taught me about unconditional love and the need to speak up and speak out. I make myself available to parents, congregation members, and others who find themselves in similar circumstances or simply want more information. My faith grounds my advocacy and encourages me in this work for justice. My prayer is that everyone will come to know they are God’s beloved, and I am delighted to serve a congregation that takes seriously its call to radical welcome and inclusion for all.
~Dr. Kate Gillooly
Rev. Luther Young:
I am Luther Young and my pronouns are he/him. I was born and raised in South Carolina before relocating to Nashville, Tennessee for college. Although I grew up in the Pentecostal Holiness church tradition, I've spent time in a few Christian denominations. It wasn't until I was in seminary at Vanderbilt that I found my home with the Disciples. I was serving a Missionary Baptist church as its young adult minister; but when I came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I was forced to leave the congregation. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) welcomed me with open arms.
I now serve as Moderator of the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance and, until very recently, served as Minister of Music at Woodland Christian Church in Columbus. I am honored to be part of a Church that has welcomed the totality of my gifts and my identities. LGBTQ+ people are and have always been a part of our Church. It is important for the Church to publicly declare its unconditional love and affirmation of LGBTQ+ people—because the sad reality is that we may not hear it elsewhere. Christ's love knows no limits, and neither should ours. This Pride month, let us continue to welcome more widely and love more deeply. "
Rev. Nathan Russell:
Rev. Nathan A. Russell (he/him). On July 1, 2018, Washington Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) called me as its next senior pastor. The arduous journey through search and call—and sixteen rejection letters—transformed into a new beginning for both the congregation and me. Prior to the call, the search committee and I had tough though generative conversations about my sexual identity. They cautioned me against carrying the church through the open and affirming process and didn’t want me to preach about “being gay.” Homophobia can still loom large in progressive-leaning congregations. For some, this context isn’t affirming, but there was enough of a willing spirit that we agreed to embrace the shared risk. In less than four years, we’ve diversified, created conversations about pronouns, conversed openly about our lives and loves, and we’ve innovated. I’ve preached authentically, and the church has celebrated what God is doing within and among us. Oh, we’ve weathered a global pandemic, too. When thinking about PRIDE, I rejoice in Christ’s church and give thanks for who God created me to be and the scandalous call in which the church and I share.
My name is Joshua Stokes (he/him). I’m currently serving at Northwest Christian Church in Upper Arlington, OH. I’ve been attending Northwest since 2017 and over the years I have been fortunate enough to serve as a deacon, teach Sunday school, assist with music ministry, and work with our college/young adult church group. Outside of church, I work full-time as a licensed mental health counselor specializing in treating religious trauma, particularly to those in the LGBTQ+ community. As someone who identifies as gay and has experienced bigotry in the name of God because of this, I firmly believe that pride month is an incredibly important time for Christians everywhere to honor.
In a culture where people often weaponize our faith to do so much harm to the LGBTQ+ community, it is imperative that those of us who recognize this gross misuse of our faith work hard to extend love, justice, and mercy to this historically marginalized community. We are now seeing a wave of legislation across our country that seeks to not only undermine the progress toward equality that we have made, but also deliberately ostracize and silence the LGBTQ+ community. While this state-sanctioned bigotry is hardly unprecedented (this is part of a long and difficult history), with the stakes as high as they are, now is the time for Christian allies everywhere to stand up to the injustice in the ways that we are called to.
Rev. Lorenzo Thomas
Grace and peace to you and yours in the name of Christ during this holy season of PRIDE! I am the Rev. Lorenzo Thomas and I serve as the pastor of Carthage Christian Church which is an Open and Affirming congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Ohio. I also serve as a chaplain in the United States Air Force where I provide emotional and spiritual support to airmen and their families. And I am currently finishing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) with the US Dept of Veterans Affairs.
I have a tattoo on my right forearm of a Great Blue Heron. I got it after a spiritually enriching trip to the Iona Abbey while in seminary. The heron is a symbol of Columba of Iona, one of the saints that I hold very near and dear to my heart. And, frankly, you see a lot of these birds growing up in Northeast Ohio. So they kinda remind me of home as well. In many cultures the heron is understood to be a liminal animal; one that really doesn't fit in anywhere. You can find herons in the trees but they seem quite out of place there being that they're so tall. But they are in the trees nonetheless. You can find herons on the ground, but again, they sort of lumber around on their gangly legs and don't seem to belong on the ground. But you find them walking the shoreline nonetheless. You can quite often find herons standing in pools of water or freshly flooded marshes. They know to stand absolutely still, so still that it's a bit disarming. In that stillness they are able to hunt, the stillness provides their nourishment. Again, they don't really belong in the water. But you can find them standing in the water nonetheless. I think that's what our ancestors may have noticed about the heron that makes it seem like a liminal creature, it just doesn't seem to belong anywhere.
For most of my life I have shared that liminal attribute of the Great Blue Heron, I just don't fit anywhere. Too tall. Skinny legs. Gangly stride. I don't like one identity and the others aren't authentic to me either. I'm not terribly masculine, yet I'm not feminine either. Sexual orientation and gender identity mean very little to how I express myself. I am just me and I don't fit any of these categories. On my trip to Iona I learned that, like the heron, God made me to lean into the liminal spaces of life. I learned in seminary that I don't have to pick and choose my identity. These lessons, and the example of the heron, taught me that I don't only survive but I thrive in the in-between spaces of life. I can be myself and a pastor and a military chaplain precisely because of who I am and not despite it. That I can remain in the tension of what being queer is, without the need or desire for labels, and simply be as I am; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
Creator God, make me more like your feathered weirdo the heron.
Help me to remain still in the waters of life.
Help me to nest in your tree of life.
Be with me in the in-between places.
This we ask through you who created some of us to be liminal creatures.