Whirlwind is the word to open my first entry – I have truly not stopped moving since getting on my plane Friday morning at 7 AM to fly here to Cleveland.
But right now, I want to stop moving long enough to express what is moving through me since I hit the ground running. As I was still turning my map around to figure out where I was starting out on Friday morning, I was ushered in to a memorial service for Tamir Rice, remembering him in the still-shaking wake of Charleston, SC. He would have been 13 years old this week, if he had not been killed. After a service of sorrowful music and prayer, we were led outside at the end to sing to the police station across the street “This Little Light of Mine,” and I was glad, and I was uncomfortable, both. I found myself a white person in a mostly white denomination struggling still with what kind of voice I can have, I ought to have, at the table of racial healing.
At noon we all went to the rally at Cleveland City Hall where the Pride rainbow flag was already flying and celebrated there the first day of marriage equality in Ohio, and across all of the United States. Amazing jubilation! Incredulous joy! I had waited and advocated so long beside my dear friends and family of the LGBTQIA community for affirmation and access that this felt impossible and wonderful, and I found myself crying for the ones who didn’t live to see this day. And yet, I was hearing from other friends in the greater non-heterosexual world feelings of invisibility still, even in the midst of this new recognition. I found myself, a straight woman in a mostly straight denomination, struggling still with what kind of voice I can have, I ought to have, at the table of gender expression/ sexual identity healing.
Then in our afternoon plenary, we were introduced to John Dorhauer by two powerful, articulate voices. Traci and Damond, you so beautifully expressed the pain and mixed feelings you have as non-white pastors in our church nominating a white straight man to be our next leadership face for the UCC on the national stage. I also heard how much you respect and endorse him, how moved you are by his commitment to help the UCC look squarely into the face of the white privilege we so glaringly manifest, and his commitment to take Open and Affirming to the next level. I found myself thinking, how can you expect to find diverse applicants for a leadership position if all the structures of our church are built on dominant culture systems? Our schools, our neighborhoods, our social networks, our economic structures, our access points? I can barely get through them as a woman but I at least have the white-thing. Surely we have a conundrum that is nearly impossible to escape – how could white heterosexual people dismantle a white-straight culture system? We can’t even see the more subtle ways in which it is white/straight-only. That’s the truth.
Friday evening, we celebrated the work of the UCC ministries on Disability. Some great achievements to rejoice in. Yet as I serve a church with increasing numbers of faithful people hungry for church but coming with walkers and wheelchairs, impairments of sight, hearing, intellect, psychology and so much more, I know we have only chipped at the mountain needed to truly be welcoming to all. I found myself, a majority-abled person in a majority-abled world, struggling still with what kind of voice I can have, I ought to have, at the table of accessibility healing.
To all the courageous committed UCC people who are non-white or non-straight or differently abled, or some of these identities together: I am deeply humbled in your presence. I do not know how to speak, or advocate, or witness in a way that will align with you and not leave you out, but I’m committed to trying. I take comfort that I am part of a church in which this struggle can even be openly visible. I will continue to show up, and I will walk/sit beside you if you let me, and I will listen and really try to hear. In your presence I am changed, and made better. Together, I pray, God may work through us to set the table that is truly made for all.
The Rev. Ms. Marisa Brown-Ludwig is Chair of the MACUCC Task Force on Ecumenism & Interfaith Relations and Interim Associate Pastor of First Church of Christ in Longmeadow.