In December of 1989, when I was a 23 year old second year seminarian at Candler School of Theology, I helped officiate a funeral for the first time in my life. I had spent months in pastoral care with the man who had died. He never came to the church in Atlanta when I worked there, and he said that he did not feel welcome in any church. He and his family had reached out to the senior pastor and me as he was nearing the completion of his life in home hospice care. In the months prior to his death, he expressed that he found acceptance from the church through our visits with him, and he expressed how grateful he was for our support and care. Together with him, we planned his funeral.
The members of his family who supported him to the end expressed their gratitude that the ministers of the church loved them all and supported them through a time of suffering and grace. At the funeral, we respected the wishes of this gentle and loving man who had changed our lives over the past six months, and we did not talk about his struggle with AIDS, and we also did not say anything that would reveal his sexual orientation. We did celebrate his life, and we did celebrate his spiritual journey of self-acceptance and his acceptance of the love of God in his life and how those close to him loved him to the end.
On the way home from the funeral, I promised myself I would help make my church, the United Methodist Church, a place that would fully welcome, care for, and celebrate the lives and relationships of a person such as the one we had just laid to rest. Today, I remember with gratitude this person who changed my life and opened my heart and mind, and I will continue to work with others to fulfill the promise I made to myself almost 25 years ago to fully open the doors of my church to all persons.