Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All Together in Allentown

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All Together in Allentown

Article excerpt

When people think of a gay-friendly Episcopal parish, they probably imagine a large liberal church with prosperous members and a catalog of well-funded programs. That's not what we are at Grace Church in Allentown, Pa. This is not about gay guys going to church before they have brunch on Sunday. We are a poor inner-city congregation that tries to make a difference.

In everything we do there are gay people and straight people working shoulder to shoulder. Gay people clean the windows and wax the floors. They distribute bags of groceries to the clients of our food bank.

You've probably heard Billy Joel's song about Allentown. It captures well what the death of the steel industry did to this city and its people. Faced with so much blue-collar pain, the people of Grace Church did not flee or barricade themselves behind stained glass. Instead, they served the poor. And they grew more, rather than less, open-minded. They have been willing to take tremendous risks--maybe because they've lost so much. They've accepted inevitable change, and maybe that's why gay people are so accepted here.

I left a successful business career in Pittsburgh two years ago and moved here to be a part of Grace. When I was interviewed to become the church's rector, the vestry asked me about my spiritual journey. I told them about my lifelong desire to be a priest; I told them about my exodus from the Roman Catholic Church; and I told them that I am gay. I knew that if I were to hide a defining aspect of myself from the very people I would be leading in a search for truth, we would fail. They responded with support, and that support continued when my partner, Mark Godler, began to come to church.

After I became their priest, my sexuality was not discussed until a reporter for the local paper asked if he could out me in a story. I said yes, and the vestry wrote a letter to the parish about it. Instead of a backlash, what I got was gratitude for my honesty, especially from our oldest members, and we had a stage in attendance.

The story that appeared in the paper was not what we expected. …

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