About ten years ago, two men came into my life and the life of our church. Some of you know them, Luigi and Sean. Since first meeting them, we have become very close. Luigi works for the church; he and Sean make their home in Chalmette with three great dogs. It is really these two that St. Anna’s, and I personally, must credit with our presence in the LGBTQ+ community.
Some time ago, Luigi discerned a call to become a Deacon in the Episcopal Church and now he is in training [seminary] as well as working at the church. His stated “mission field” is the LGBTQ+ Community, our Community within Communities. One of his requirements by me, his Rector, is that he preach at least once, if not twice, a year. This past Sunday Luigi gave a very personal and touching account of his life and of his discovery of a “safe place.” Here is his sermon:
July 7 [Luke: 10:1-11, 16-20] The Commissioning of the 70.
Coming from the church background I had, growing up as a kid, there was a place and time to be taught or speak about the Gospel. And that was in church and church ONLY. I am from the days of nuns teaching us religion and if someone asked me what I thought about a church rule or church changes, the answer was ALWAYS “I don’t have to think, I’m a Catholic.”
NO ONE in my family had a Bible in their home, let alone read it. You just didn’t, the priest was the final word. For me, everyone in my neighborhood acted the same way and basically had the same lifestyle. We were all Roman Catholic. Democratic party line. All went to the same church. Moms were stay-at-home-moms. Dads were blue-collar and proud carriers of a union card.
Being a laborer in a union was a big deal when I was growing up. You could ask a retired person what they did for work before retirement. And you received an answer “I was a Union man, with local 320 Carpenters.”
For me, it was a symbol of who they were, what they created, how they helped someone by being a laborer. And they were good at their profession. You did not have to be a certain, race, religion or nationality. You were union for your specific trade. It was a special club with your work peers.
Church for my friends and me was preparing for our first confession. After that, preparing for our first communion and, finally, our confirmation. This takes years. You start at 7-years-old and end at 13 or 14-years-old; remember, that was like a lifetime for kids.
By now we are entering high school. We were never taught what to do after our confirmation with the church. You’re just kind of there. You go to Sunday Mass, and mass on the Holy Days of Obligations. You possibly would’ve asked to join the Knights of Columbus.
In today’s Gospel, Luke said the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. This reminded me of the start of Holy Week at St. Anna’s.
What do we do on Palm Sunday? We have a great procession through the neighborhoods around St. Anna’s. We stop at street corners, pray, and we proclaim the arrival of Jesus. You can look around as we process, or stop for prayer, and you see people of all walks of life coming out to their stoops and balconies to watch and listen to us. And we hand them palms.
During Holy week on Maundy Thursday a group of people from St. Anna’s will go into the church neighborhood and say the stations of the cross. People will stop and listen to us reciting the stations of the cross, and they may ask for a blessing or for us to pray with them. We may not be 70 persons as told in the reading. We may only be 7. We do not have a location called Judah or Israel. We have Treme and Marigny. We do not have the Red Sea we have the Mississippi River. We do not stop in areas like Jerusalem and Nazareth. We have street corners to stop at called Esplanade and Marais or Dauphine and Kerlerec. We even have Mags, The Phoenix, The Pub, the whole gay bar scene.
Is what we do at St. Anna’s any less than what the 70 did that Jesus sent out?
I believe we are doing his work. We all are proclaiming the Gospel. Over the years I have been at St. Anna’s, the parishioners and the Rector have taught me that the “harvest is plentiful and laborers are few”
Within the LGBT community, you have persons of all denominations, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and so many others. Most, like me, were hurt by the Church or even asked to leave because we were gay. Many did not want to leave their church, but many had no choice, as they were thrown out of their churches.
For my generation, by the time I became 22-years-old, I started to hear about AIDS, but at that time it was called GRID. Eventually, it would wipe out a whole generation of gay men.
Most of my friends were Roman Catholic; the church was not very tolerant at all. In fact, I believe this was a flashpoint as to why so many men left the church. I had friends in the hospital, and when they asked for a priest for last rites they were refused. First, we were gay, and second, they just would not come around a sick person who had AIDS.
I also witnessed Roman Catholic priests who would not allow a funeral to be held in their church. I had to listen to a priest explain during his homily why my friend died. He pointed out very rudely that it was our sins for being gay that was killing us. This was said to his family who were in attendance. I think this was when I had enough of the church. I even stopped going to funerals at this point. I lost all my friends that I hung around with by the time I was 35.
I did not attend church for a very long time. I did do the occasional Sunday service but I would sit in the very back. I just wanted to be alone and not interact with anyone.
Directly after Hurricane Katrina, my husband Sean was doing construction work. He had a job at Father Terry and his wife Vickie’s house in the Bywater. Sean’s church background was just like mine and he had not attended church in many years. So, Sean comes in one evening from working at their house and went on and on about the cool priest and his wife. Telling a very confused Roman Catholic. My thought was “How can he be married? He’s a Priest. Ewwwww.”
Remember, I was never taught by a nun or priest. For my family, there were no other religions but Roman Catholic, Holy Mother Church. To be honest, even as a young adult after leaving my church, I never thought about any other faith. I would not even know how to go about it. Sean explained to me they were Episcopalian and I looked it up, yep I did. I tried church here at St. Anna’s. The moment I entered here I found church again. A church that accepted me for me. As I always said and believe “I am a Christian that happens to be Gay.”
After a short time, I fell in love with the Episcopal faith, its teachings, St. Anna’s, its parishioners and the possibility I always wanted and prayed for, to be part of what the Church does. I knew there were so many others out there like myself that felt the way I did. Well before I understood this reading today, I knew there was a plentiful harvest, and I could be a good laborer. In fact, by your support and prayers, I will begin my second year of Diaconate Seminary in August.
A few years ago, we received a phone call from a local Gay club. Someone in the gay community died. The person who died was religious, but no one really knew his family because he was kicked out of his home a very long time ago for being gay. His friends wanted to do something religious; they knew he would want that. But at the same time this group of friends were afraid to go into a church. So we were invited to hold service at the local club. It worked out very well. The community started to trust us. Some of the services we held were very moving and powerful. In time, many saw that they could be who they are around a religious setting.
Funerals started in the upstairs of a bar, and proceeded to holding a full Solemn mass. Our first full mass was for a member of the LGBT community, Marcy Marcell. Marcy was a very popular and long-time female impersonator, ok, drag queen. We were approached to have a full mass at St. Anna’s, bells, smoke, everything.
A wish Marcy had was that her funeral be held as close as possible to the funeral scene in the 1959 movie Imitation of Life, the version with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore. Has anyone seen this film? At the end, you see people crying, women wearing hats with veils, Mahalia Jackson belting out the song Trouble of the World, only the way Mahalia could do it. Outside the church is a glass caisson with white horses to pull it.
We were not far behind this. St. Anna’s was packed and had a wonderful powerful mass. As we began the procession out of the church the song Trouble of the World was played. When we went outside, there was a HUGE crowd. There was indeed a glass caisson pulled by white horses. And yes, some great hats with veils were worn.
Today St. Anna’s hosts at least four LGBT + civic groups where they use the Parish Hall for meetings and get-togethers. For a number of years now, LGBT civic groups have collected Christmas gifts that we share with those in need. These same civic groups also collect Easter Baskets we distribute to kids in need.
St. Anna’s is blessed to have more than one field to labor in. Brother Don and those that help him with the harvest of the food pantry. Diana Meyers, Darryl Durham, and the volunteers, many from our church, harvest by working with the kids in the after school programs and Sunday School program.
St. Theresa of Avila in the 16th Century said, “Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now”
I pray when the day comes, when I am judged, I am considered to have been a good laborer and have a chance to receive my union card. Amen.