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Faith Journey of Judith J. WestLee

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  • U.M. Cornet
    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE This story is shared with Judy WestLee s permission. ... Faith Journey of Judith J. WestLee I was raised on a farm in southeast
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 7, 2000
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      CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE

      This story is shared with Judy WestLee's permission.

      -------------------------------------


      Faith Journey of Judith J. WestLee

      I was raised on a farm in southeast Minnesota. I was baptized and
      confirmed as a Missouri Lutheran.

      The little white frame church in my home village was an important place in
      my childhood. There we received the annual �the Jews killed Jesus� sermon
      and the annual �the Catholics are going to hell and so is everyone else who
      is not Missouri Lutheran� sermon. Every Sunday the liturgy consisted of our
      minister yelling out his part of liturgy and the congregation responding as
      quickly as we possibly could. I remember turning to my mother one Sunday
      and asking, �What did we do wrong?� because I was assuming we had said
      something wrong in our part of the liturgy.

      With this understanding of �church� and �God,� I stopped attending church
      as soon as I left home for college at age 17. However, while I attending
      college I started to explore other ways of �doing church.� I attended
      several denominations� services new to me by tagging along with friends.

      A move to another state and city marked the end of my church attendance �
      to any church. I was in what I termed my �agnostic humanist� period. And
      this period would last for several years.

      Then I made friends with two women who didn�t know each other, but who were
      both United Methodists. I liked what I heard about their concern with
      others and non-judgmentalism. I started taking downhill skiing with one of
      these friends. Even while traveling around the area and dressed in our ski
      clothes, she insisted upon attending church services on Sunday mornings.
      So, what could I do but tag along again?

      After 2-3 years of this practice, I started attending the local United
      Methodist church all by myself! This was a momentous event for me! By this
      time I was in my early 30�s. I clearly remember sitting in the pew hearing
      for the first time that God loved me �warts and all.� I didn�t have to
      perfect in order for God to love me. I heard for the first time that God
      was friendly and loving rather than angry and vengeful. I sat quietly in
      the pew with tears running down my cheeks! I couldn't believe how happy I
      was!

      I joined that little United Methodist Church and accepted positions on the
      local council. Soon after that I celebrated my newly found sobriety.
      Sunday morning I sat upstairs in the pew. Thursday evening I sat around the
      tables in the basement in a 12 Step meeting.

      This was a very happy time in my life. Then tragedy struck. My
      sister-in-law, whom I loved very much, was involved in a very serious car
      accident. She lived, but was severely brain damaged. I spent days the
      hospital with my brother and niece as we waited to learn if she would return
      to us.

      In the midst of that, I drove home, completely drained of energy. As I
      drove, I argued with God and railed at God for allowing this terrible
      accident to happen. I asked why wasn�t it ME in that accident rather than
      my sister-in-law. I was single and no one would notice that I was gone. My
      sister-in-law had her husband and child.
      After about 30 minutes of that, I was at the last turn on the highway
      before arriving home. I became quiet for a couple of minutes and then I
      prayed: �God, I don�t understand this at all. But Your will be done. For
      whatever it is worth, You have my life. All of it. Do with it as You
      will.�

      Well! That was the most dangerous prayer I have ever prayed! Shortly
      after that, I started feeling God�s �call� for me to go into ministry. I
      shrugged it off. I ignored it. I laughed at myself about it. But it
      wouldn�t go away. I came into a fairly large amount of unexpected money.

      I again was in my car pondering how I should use the money: buy a mobile
      home or town house? Start a retirement fund? Once again, I was finally
      quiet for a moment. And I clearly heard a voice say firmly: �You will use
      the money to attend seminary.� I almost drove the car into the ditch on
      that one!

      That night I never even went to bed. Instead I prayed and paced my
      apartment. I prayed while studying the stars from my balcony. I asked if
      this was really what God wanted me to do. By dawn I was quiet, full of
      energy and I had my answer. I would go to seminary.

      I graduated from seminary and was appointed to a rural parish. Again, I
      was very happy. But a few months after coming into parish ministry God
      revealed to me the true nature of my sexual identity. I finally
      acknowledged what I never before could face: that I am a lesbian.

      At the time I wasn�t even certain what the word �lesbian� meant. I had to
      ask someone for a definition of �dyke� [which I was called] because I had no
      idea what it meant. I couldn�t justify this new sexual identity with my
      understanding of the Bible and Christianity. I read with pain the new
      negative pronouncements from the United Methodist General Conferences. I
      hated myself and wondered how I could have failed so completely. I became
      severely depressed.
      Luckily, I was able to find a friendly counseling place in the Twin
      Cities. I went into 1-to-1 counseling. I joined a sexual identity
      exploration small group. Later I joined a lesbian support group. I
      found a new community of lesbians. My new support group kept me alive
      and prevented my suicide.

      I continued to serve in ministry as a local parish pastor. But as time
      went on, it felt as if my two worlds: the church and the lesbian community
      were spreading further and further apart. Finally, I could stand the
      pressure no longer. I �came out� [told my sexual identity] to my district
      superintendent and subsequently went on honorable location.

      The call to ministry would not stop, however. After a couple of years I
      asked my new district superintendent to again be appointed to a local
      parish. I wanted to walk with God�s people again as their pastor. In order
      to comply with the United Methodist Book of Discipline, I took a personal
      vow with my bishop to live in celibacy.
      I told her that if I found I could no longer do that, I would tell her so.

      I went back into the parish ministry. A year later I met the most
      remarkable person I have ever met. We fell in love. I made an
      appointment to tell my bishop that this had happened and that we planned to
      have a Holy Union ceremony. It was agreed that I would go on Leave of
      Absence.

      That was five years ago. I still cry as I miss being in parish ministry.
      My partner and I are active in a local United Methodist Church where we feel
      comfortable and accepted. I have become active on the National Affirmation
      Council, a caucus which speaks for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered United
      Methodists. I have found employment, but continually miss ministry.

      Through all of this, I feel the close presence of God standing with me.
      Where will this end? Only God knows. And I will trust God to make the
      wisest choice for my life as I have done ever since that prayer for God to
      take my life. I have never taken it back into my hands.

      -----
      Judy WestLee is co-convener of Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian,
      Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Concerns


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