Tuesday was National Coming Out Day and the celebrated in advance with a Sunday service that spoke of acceptance, love and sexuality. The Rev. Mike Young’s sermon was entitled If Sex Isn’t Religious, Nothing Is.
Morning sunlight poured in through high windows, illuminating the dark wood-paneled sanctuary as though the roof was open. (This confused my camera for a while but the video soon improved.)
“The dynamics of sexuality touch every aspect of the life we share together,” Rev. Young declared. “If sex is not religious then nothing else is. Nothing reaches into the very core of what it feels like to be a human being.”
Two members of the congregation stepped up to the podium to share their stories. Wrapped in Rev. Young’s rainbow stole, Jon Bassinger-Flores spoke of living a closeted life among family, friends and church, until finally flinging open the closet door at age 29. He is now leading the church’s program to become officially designated by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Welcoming Congregation.
Liz Owen professed with fervor her devotion, as a straight woman, to championing the rights and dignity of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) community. Her activism and passion landed her the position of director of communications at PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) National. She called it her “dream job.”
Owen has also joined the Welcoming Congregation committee. If the congregation votes to accept the program, members will undergo months of training, outreach and special events to encourage LGBT awareness and inclusiveness. The curriculum of classes, meetings and special events, Bassinger-Flores said, allows congregants “to talk about hidden biases and prejudices that we all have, so that we know what to prepare ourselves for as we become more intentionally inclusive and welcoming of people who may be unlike ourselves.”
I’d thought that Unitarian Universalists were already as intentionally welcoming and inclusive as a denomination could be but Rev. Young put me right, asserting, “We are normal human beings, we UUs, prejudiced as all get out!”
While adult members are exploring their categorical thinking, the church’s Religious Exploration department will be conducting a youth program called Our Whole Lives (OWL), a human sexuality curriculum that’s age appropriate for elementary school through young adulthood, and not religiously based.
The current session is aimed at 7th through 9th graders. It’s being co-led by Emmalinda MacLean, the director of religious education at Emerson UU Church in Canoga Park, and Jill Herbertson, the director of religious exploration at UU Church of Studio City.
“To have both the Welcoming Congregation and an adolescent sexuality workshop going on at the same time is serendipitous and appropriate,” said Rev. Young.
In recognition of National Coming Out Day, the service’s “Second Sunday offering,” or collection, was dedicated to The Trevor Project, named for a gay 13-year-old who attempted suicide after being rejected by friends based on his sexuality. The Trevor Project is now the leading national organization focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. In just a few minutes donations reached nearly $500.
Join me and the rest of the congregation at the Unitarian Universalist Sunday service, opened by the chime of a Tibetan bowl and interwoven with hymns and homilies, by watching the video. Listen in on my conversations afterwards with Mike, John, Emmalinda and Jill.
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