Danny Stiles shared these words during the August 2019 Church Council meeting.
It’s important for you to hear how your vision and steps of faith have touched my life. I understand that the God’s Doors Are Open to All Project and Love is Love have perhaps not been an all in venture for the St John’s congregation. Reaching out to welcome those of us who have an un-relatable lifestyle can be uncomfortable. I’m sure as the woman in Luke’s gospel entered the room to anoint Jesus’ feet, those around Jesus may have felt like you.
But for me the day I saw those doors on the lawn and the message of Love is Love and all are welcomed, my life was forever changed.
I want to share with you briefly my journey. I have struggled with being gay from a very young age. Not really understanding what it was, just knowing it was something that I had to keep from everyone. I made the perfect victim. Already curious, I was easily groomed and was taken in. I have never blamed the abuse in my life for being gay. However, like countless other gays, I have prayed and prayed for the gay to be taken away.
Knowing that these actions in a small farming town of 1000 people could have adverse effects on my life, they stayed just that hidden.
Church has always been in my life, and I’m the youngest of five. My mother played piano, was Women’s Missions Director, taught the Ruth Sunday school class, lead the music (it was a progressive Baptist church), and did her turn with youth as my older siblings grew up. Dad was deacon and served as custodian for 50 years. Dad always taught what he called the last promotable men’s class in the church. After his class was Heaven. Third pew from the front piano side was where we always sat.
In my own life I have raised my children in church. Done VBS, church camps, music programs, children’s church. All the while trying to pray it away. I dated many wonderful girls, and my senior year working at a restaurant I met and fell in love with a beautiful blue-eyed city girl. I enlisted, served my country, and we raised four amazing children. You see I did what I was supposed to do. I prayed and stuffed away the feeling, I manned up as you might say.
Almost eight years ago on February 2, my worst fears came true. I was outed. So the man, husband, father, and grandfather that I had been for so many years was a fraud. Now everyone knew my secret.
I guess to understand the fear you could relate it to dreams of being in public naked. During all of this I have never doubted God’s love for me. I had to go to work and continue to function with all the whispers. I lost so many friends. Then the news quickly reached my local church. I was asked to leave. I found another church to attend. Then in a small town another church was given the news of my life. And I was told “you can come here but not participate.”
During all of this, I never doubted God’s love for me. Just doubted His people’s love.
Why is it important for me to be a part of a church? I desire to worship with others. I desire to show the love of God to others who may not have had that third pew on the piano side childhood. I want to share the love of God to those who through the abuse did doubt the love of God. I long so to commune with that God as my authentic self.
I have identical twin sons. Twelve years of school wasn’t easy. Nobody could tell them apart. Teachers who had them in different class times epically failed. They attended different universities. Meeting up after one of the many freshman parent/kid orientations, Brandon had a monster meltdown. When he finally was calm and could speak he asked, “Do you have any clue what it’s like to have someone look at you and know it’s you?”
That’s what I feel in St John’s as I come and worship. I get to be my authentic self. Because this place understands that Love is Love and all are welcome.