My whole adult life, I’ve felt like a problem that needed to be managed. There’s no one person or circumstance that has made me feel this way, it’s just a pervasive impression that I’ve gotten. I went to college at an institution that regularly makes the Princeton Review’s list of the Top LGBT Un-Friendly Colleges. I wasn’t out then, but I knew that the college “handled” the gay community, rather than welcomed and integrated it. After college, I was a second grade classroom aide at a charter school in a state that didn’t (and still doesn’t) offer any employment protections against sexual orientation discrimination. The seminary I attended really excels at holding tension amongst a highly diverse student body and really listens to the varied theological and cultural voices in the community. However, I experienced the student body as extremely homophobic, and continued my now years-practiced stance of staying quiet, “straightening up,” and being a little less than truly authentic. My queerness, my true and whole self, was a problem that needed to be managed.
The feeling didn’t change when I came under care of classis. Every time I met with my oversight committee, I was very careful to dress, sit, and speak a certain way as to appear “normal.” I would strategize with trusted mentors on how to be safe, how to make it through the system of ordination exams, fitness for ministry, all the hoops, without being found out for who I really was. I wasn’t trying to trick anyone into ordaining me; in fact there were several times when I almost decided to leave the denomination to pursue a different path. I was trying to downplay my queerness and emphasize my obvious gifts for ministry in hopes that the former didn’t disqualify me from doing the latter. The Reformed Church in America is my home and my family. I kept trying to figure out how they would let me stay. As it turns out, I’m a really good minister. I’m a really good Reformed minister.
I came out to my classis executive committee after I’d been ordained and taken a solo pastorate position in a sister denomination. I needed to disclose my whole self to my classis because I was done living in paranoia, feeling like a liability, and being inauthentic. I had developed a strong relationship with my classis at this point and I trusted them to continue to love and support me; not in spite of my queerness, but because I am a called, qualified, equal colleague and child of God. However, the individual conversations that lead up to this larger, longer, and very emotional meeting with the classis executive committee, these conversations were riddled with questions and worst-case scenarios. I still felt like a problem that needed managing.
The short story is that everything is fine. My classis executive committee has pledged their continued support of me. I’ve stopped being as paranoid. As my fellow classis members become aware of my sexual orientation, my pre-emptive disclosure has moved this knowledge from sensation to simply another fact about me. I’m not going around introducing myself as, “Rev. Annie Reilly – you know, the gay one,” but I’m not constantly worried about people finding out or pretending to be someone other than I am either. I get to take my place in this beloved community as my whole self, just like everyone else.
I am surrounded by allies. I have been reassured, consoled, cheered, and loved. The best allies were the ones who listened without giving opinions or warnings. They were the ones who kept challenging me to hone my skills as a minister and validated my call. Theirs were the voices that I needed to hear, so desperately, when I didn’t think that I would ever be able to bring my whole self into the life and ministry of the RCA. There are still days when I’m unsure of this. But I am not alone. I have such a great cloud of witnesses who don’t think and never thought that I was a problem that needed to be managed. And this is all anyone ever wants: to be heard, to be seen, and to be loved all the same.
Rev. Annie Reilly was raised in Holland, Michigan. She graduated from Calvin College in 2007 and from New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 2012. Annie was ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament by Schenectady Classis on Epiphany 2013. Currently, she serves as the solo pastor at a Presbyterian church and as the Regional Synod of Albany Communications Coordinator. Annie is a volunteer youth group leader with the Capital Region Pride Center. She lives in Troy, NY with her partner Nikki, their dog, cat, and chickens.