It has been nearly four years since I first considered walking away from the Mennonite church. The urge came on a Wednesday night, the June after my high school graduation, sitting in youth group preparing for another MCUSA convention. It was my sixth national Mennonite convention, each prior one a cherished memory of my childhood. This time our destination was Columbus, Ohio.
We sat as a youth group, preparing for the upcoming trip, discussing travel itineraries and setting expectations for the week. After covering many mundane details the Youth Pastor took a deep breath and the demeanor of the room changed. The room got very serious and the warning he was about to give us, I’m sure, felt very serious to him. “Leave your pink at home.” These words, referencing Pink Menno’s initial presence in Columbus, changed my relationship with the Mennonite church forever.
It had been almost six months since I had started self-identifying as gay. Most of my close friends knew, but only one or two people at church knew. While Pink Menno would eventually come to be a symbol of hope for me in the Mennonite church, it was a difficult road to my being able to claim my own ‘pinkness.’
I timidly went out a purchased a pink polo for convention so that I could wear it, making my first attempt at standing with the oppressed – standing with my own identity. I wore it that week in Columbus, but avoided all the other Pink Menno events to the best of my ability. As the Youth Pastor was also my father, I was afraid to make too public a statement about the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church.
Columbus was not a hopeful convention. That week was awful. I felt like I had no one to talk to about what I was going through. As convention speaker after convention speaker spoke about the love of God and God’s desire to be in relationship as we are, many in my youth group made it crystal clear that who I am as a gay man was not welcome in their church. I was ready to walk away from the church. I saw the church as a place of great pain, exclusion, and hypocrisy.
It wasn’t until a month later, at the Mennonite World Conference that I found a sense of healing and hope in the Mennonite church. It was MWC that renewed my appreciation for the church community and the work that was happening around the world. As I shared in worship with global church members, I knew I wasn’t ready to walk away from the church. MWC reminded me that even though the church sometimes fails to show Christ-like love, for many the church provides a place of sacred community and serves as the hands and feet of Christ around the world.
Now, almost four years later, I am preparing for yet another convention. Since the convention in Columbus, I have found healing and reconciliation with parts of the church community. I have found welcome at a small congregation in Harrisonburg, Va. I have also found my voice as a member of the church. For much of this, I owe a great deal of thanks to Pink Menno, which has continued to be a source of hope when life has been rough.
There are many days when I want to simply be content with the welcome that I have found for myself, but there has been a continued voice that tells me that there is still work to do. I really thought I was done with national conventions after Pittsburgh. Yet here I am, preparing for Phoenix, because I know that there are many who still feel marginalized in their churches. Like I felt in Columbus, there are those who feel like they have no one to talk to about their identity and that they cannot be accepted for who they are. Now, four years later, as a part of Pink Menno, I look forward to holding out my hand to make sure that all people find their welcome at the table and find the church to be a place of hope, rather than marginalization.