Written after the Jan. 15, 2012 Congregational Meeting at Hope Church, Holland, Michigan, to discuss whether to become a “Room for All Church.” The question was asked, “How does this impact Hope Church People?”
The “Room for All” focus gave emotional impact to this day for me. In 1958, on this very January weekend, a phone call revealed my younger brother had ended his life in the darkness of that early Sunday morning. He was 19. He was gay, unknown to me then.
We made our way from my first pastorate in northwest Washington to a devastated family scene. On this date my Dad wrote a short poem to Rog, saturated with his grief and powerlessness, entitled, “No Place for You!” My Dad’s heart broke for good six years later at 59 at the anniversary of my brother’s death.
Rog had ulcers, appeared socially shy, and, though bright, dropped from high school at 16. His hard work and thoughtfully kind spirit made him an immediate prized worker at a store. He generously shared his boat and motor interest and trained his German Shepherd dog.
Even professional help did not know what to do with him. I never understood what lay behind his desperate note: “Forgive me- but I can’t stand it anymore!” Finally in 1980 I appealed to my aunt, my Dad’s older sister (his only confidant) for any further understanding. She revealed the kept secret of his gayness. Only researchers knew about gay persons in the ‘50s as they came together in large cities or lived closed lives. My work had well-acquainted me with this reality.
The story: Rog spent Saturday evenings at a marina boat club, apparently in the company of a few gay men; he left later and a deputy sheriff stopped him for a headlight out and soon shoved him into a typical Saturday night jail cell full of men; my Dad bailed him out well after midnight dragging with hurt and shame.
The note also read, “God is merciful!” With stomach-grabbing sadness I have to acknowledge that, if Rog had somehow lived, he would yet not be welcome at the church out of which he was buried.
I worked as a marriage and family therapist in a psychiatric clinic (where we were the referral source for several Christian colleges and seminaries), and in an inner-city counseling center. Thus I worked with many young adults who were LGBT, whose lives were made fearful and painful by family and church denial, unresponsiveness, judgment or rejection. “No Place for you” was the label above their lives!
Now Hope Church is ready to declare, “Room for All!” Already Hope Church’s accepting spirit has impacted our family. Our granddaughter faced that she was lesbian. Our pastors and other grace-filled people here accepted and undergirded her fully, but, though she struggled courageously with full family love and support, living in Holland was too difficult. She now lives in a Western city and with a partner and is creating a family life with two young daughters. We are grateful.
Hopefully, an LGBT oriented child of a Hope Church family will never have to keep secrets, be alienated, or treated any differently—quite the opposite! Hopefully, persons and families who do feel alienated, mistreated and/or rejected will know our openness and welcome—and come among us!
ROOM FOR ALL is a grace-based stance of our life in God via Jesus Christ that declares: We know what to do with different gender-oriented persons: Welcome them, accept them, include them, embrace them!
[Ed. Note: Earl Laman is a retired Minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA. After the discussion and vote at the congregational meeting, the consistory of Hope Church voted unanimously to join the roster of “Room for All Churches.”]