Kyle Pogemiller

After attending a Room for All “Building an Inclusive Church” weekend hosted by my church (the Reformed Church of New Paltz), I was inspired, along with several of our other church members, to share our reasons why we believe Room for All is so important. As part of this training, we were encouraged to map out and tell our stories. The next day in church we shared our stories from the pulpit as part of our sermon. This is my story:

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the Room for All conference that was hosted by our church. Over Friday evening and Saturday, an ecumenical group met for discussion and exercises geared towards becoming a more welcoming and inclusive church. The Room for All initiative is particularly meaningful to me because I am a gay Christian. It has taken me a long time to be able to say those words to myself, let alone from the pulpit, but I feel that my experiences will help us move forward in our goal of becoming a more inclusive congregation.

As a gay Christian, I know all too well what it feels like to be afraid to sit in church. Sunday worship is incredibly important to me, as are the people that I worship with, but it wasn’t until very recently that I felt comfortable being my true self in church. As many of you know, I am a church employee. I direct the Youth and Junior Choirs and have done so for the past 2 years. I attend church almost every Sunday and when I leave, not only do I feel spiritually fulfilled, I feel relieved. Subconsciously I think, “Whew, another week where no one knows I’m gay.”

I was resigned to the fact that it would continue to be like this for the foreseeable future when it was announced several months ago that the consistory would be voting on the Room for All roster initiative. The first time I heard about it in church, I felt like everyone was looking right at me, that somehow they had figured out my secret. My palms got sweaty, I started to fidget; I was terrified. I would say nothing when it was brought up in church, at coffee hour, or at other events. I ignored the mailings that were sent out soliciting feedback, throwing them away immediately, as if they somehow gave me away. I wanted nothing to do with it.

It continued to be a topic of conversation on Sundays and the Thursdays I had Youth and Senior Choir. The months wore on until finally the consistory had set a date for the vote. When I heard the date, I started to get even more uncomfortable. Something was eating away at me inside. How could I sit here, as someone who would directly benefit from this, and say nothing? I thought of the quote, “If you’re not willing to stand up for what you believe in, who will?”

The week of the vote, I sat at my computer for 6 hours to craft what ended up being a one page response. I had a lot to say and knew that I had to articulate my thoughts in a way that would illustrate my stance on the matter. I had such anxiety writing that letter, knowing that it could very well be my downfall here. I researched “coming out” literature, letter writing techniques, and persuasive strategies that I could put into practice until finally, I was finished.

Once the letter was finished, I sent it off to our senior elder and asked her to read it to the consistory that night. Recognizing how difficult this was for me, and not wanting to “out” me unnecessarily, she wrote me back and said she would only read the letter if it looked like things would not work out.

I was upset and scared because I hadn’t told many people about my being gay; I felt as if I had nowhere to turn. So, I turned to prayer. I used to pray that God would change me, that I wouldn’t be like this anymore. Then I prayed that no one would ever find out, that I could hide it. Now I prayed that I would be loved and that God would give me the strength to handle whatever was coming.

After I sent the letter, I sat down to write another one: my resignation. I knew that if the RfA roster initiative didn’t pass, I would have to leave the employ of the church and make my home elsewhere. I couldn’t stay knowing that people I cared about and worshiped with did not support me. It’s a terrible thing you have to come to terms with, saying goodbye to something you love so much. I consider this church my home. I have been coming to the New Paltz Reformed Church since I was a freshman in high school, but was at that time only a member of the choir. During my senior year in high school my family began attending services here full time. This is where I would spend Christmas Eve and Easter when I was home from college. I still sang in Candlelight services. I had the honor of returning as the Youth and Junior Choir director and was finally settling back in, cultivating my relationship with God and with all of you. Knowing that I might have to leave this behind was more painful than I can say. Still, I knew in my heart that this was the right thing to do, that I had to make a stand.

I finished my resignation letter intending to send it off if the initiative failed, and headed upstairs to the storage unit in my guest room. I removed the boxes that I used to move in 6 months earlier and began to pack. I made it through the entire guest room before I was crying too hard to see.

I allowed myself 20 minutes before I stood up again and continued. I packed up the guest room, my room, and most of the closet. Pictures were taken off walls, breakables wrapped, clothes folded. I had a lot to think about. Where was I going to go? How was I going to tell my parents? What would people think? I thought about how I would say goodbye to the pastor and church staff, my friends, and hardest of all, my choir kids, whom I have grown to love so much. Packing occupied my hands, but these thoughts occupied my mind.

My phone buzzed in the other room and I forced myself to stop and check it. It was a text from our senior elder, saying that it had passed – we were going to be a “Room for All Church.” The tears came again, but this time they were tears of relief.

I kept my things in boxes that night, too emotionally fragile to deal with confronting them again. I went to sleep that night feeling like my prayers were answered, that God loved me.

I remember running into our biggest Room for All advocate in the church office later that week and she stopped me. With her usual bright welcoming smile, she thanked me for my beautiful letter and asked me if I would like to become more involved in the evolution of the Room for All program. Excited by the momentum we seemed to be gaining, I said that I would be happy to do whatever I can to help. I urge you all to join the conversation and help us to move forward so that we can welcome everyone into God’s loving arms.

That day, after speaking with her, with a renewed sense of faith both in God and in our church, I went home and started to unpack the boxes.

The Reformed Church of New Paltz became a “Room for All” rostered church on May 1st, 2012. Kyle told his story at worship on May 5th, 2013. Those who were there report tears and a standing ovation. At the end of the service, the pastors gave the benediction with their arms around him. One person reflected, “In the struggle for inclusion, we can only move one step at a time and sometimes those steps seem very heavy and painfully slow. At other times the steps are glorious leaps of joy! I am reminded of a line in a poem by David Whyte: ‘The visible and the invisible / working together in common cause / to produce the miraculous.’ It was a Spirit led, Spirit filled, joyous leap, miraculous day.”