Mary Simpson-Stanton talking with other United Methodists outside the convention center hosted General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by the Rev. David Valera.
I have never been an extrovert. Talking with strangers used to terrify me, and if you’d asked me ten years ago whether I’d be the kind of person approaching others and engaging them in discussions, especially about touchy issues like GLBTI inclusion and abortion, I probably would have laughed in your face.
But there are a few things different here which make it possible to have those conversations. First, most of us affiliated with the Common Witness Coalition are clearly identifiable by the rainbow stoles we wear around our necks. This not only creates a visible presence for the progressives to show that we are not a small number of people, it also allows us to know who it’s okay to talk with when we need support or comforting.
I was sitting alone at a table yesterday journaling, when a member of the Parents’ Reconciling Network (a group which serves as a support for parents with GLBTI and questioning children) came and sat with me. She was a refugee from one of the legislative committees that is discussing really hard stuff, and needed to decompress and talk with someone. We talked about how hard it is to be in the presence of such toxic conversation, especially when you’re simply an observer and not permitted to speak, and when the people being talked about are people you love deeply.
She told me some of her story, and how her daughter is and what she’s up to here. What began as a near desperate need for commiseration and distraction became a wonderful conversation about the future of the church, discernment of Call, and how we live out our commitment to love and acceptance here at GC2012. She is my new buddy here, and I’ve had similar moments with a dozen other rainbow-stoled folks as well.
The other moments have been with non-stoled people, too. One delegate from the Philippines had her photo taken with me while I carried a person-shaped sign which told the experience of another individual:
My best friend is gay. He has talked about suicide. I need to get him to a church community, but I can’t bring him to you because you say he is “incompatible”.
Many delegates show their appreciation to demonstrators with just a smile, a touch on the shoulder, or by mouthing “thank you” when we make eye contact. I got about three hugs from delegates just this morning.
It is because this place is so often so full of love that I can continue to be a United Methodist. THIS is the Connection! This is the place where we come together.
…I just wish there weren’t so many people trying to silence me and my friends.
Mary Simpson-Stanton is a lay member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington. You can catch more of her thoughts at her blog online HERE.