On June 11, Seattle resident Jennifer Self addressed the West Raleigh Presbyterian Church congregation, where her late grandmother, Harriet Reichenbach, had been a longtime member. Self was invited to share the story of her journey growing up as a lesbian. An excerpt follows.
You are a brave congregation for taking up these issues. By doing this, you are inviting challenge and opportunity.
Now, I know this could feel a little like “the lesbians are coming,” as if something or someone new is coming into your midst. But we are already among you, even if we are not in your pews. We are your children, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, the people you work with, the woman next to you at the checkout counter. We are already part of your family, part of this congregation….
When I was in college, I had a roommate, raised in the Presbyterian faith, who came out when she was 27. When she came out, she wrote a coming out letter to her friends and family. And she said: “Dear friends and family, growing up straight in this culture is like being a tree growing in the environment of celebration. And in the environment of celebration, the soil is rich and deep and the trees roots grow strong and pull the nutrients and water up out of the soil. And the tree grows strong. And in the environment of celebration, the sun is out, so the tree gets a lot of sun and warmth. In the environment of celebration, it rains enough, so the tree gets plenty of water. And the tree grows strong and proud and basks in its environment and says, ‘Look at me, I’m a tree.’”
And she said, “Growing up gay in this culture is like being a tree growing in the environment of depravation and oppression. Over here in the environment of depravation and oppression, the ground is hard and claylike, so the seed has to push and struggle just to pop its little head above the earth. The roots do not grow deep because the earth is so hard. But the tree, it grows and it bends and it twists against the harshness of its environment. And, over here in the environment of depravation and oppression, the sun isn’t out, but it doesn’t rain very much. But the tree grows, and we look at that tree and we say, ‘Tree, what is wrong with you, tree? Why can’t you be like that tree?’”
But we forget that we are the rain and the sun and the soil. And we created both trees. And our job is to be the rain, the sun and the soil so that all of our relatives, all the members of our families, and all the members of this congregation can grow into the trees they were meant to be, whether that is an oak or a pine or an aspen. Because we want that for each other, we want everyone to grow into the tree they were meant to be.