I had the opportunity to visit Kansas last week, and jumped at the opportunity ... After all, it'll be at least another ten years before I get another period of extended ministerial development leave, and the opportunity to visit Kansas may not present itself next time.
Why Kansas? Because it's home to two people I've been interacting with online for a while now, regarding equality, equal rights and the church ...
Firstly, Sarah Manley (writer of the Nerdy Apple blog, amongst other claims to fame) and I started chatting online after her blog went viral, and found ourselves exchanging ideas on equality. I love her sense of justice, and her humour and sarcasm, and that she is also a fantastic straight ally for the LGBTQ community. A straight ally is a powerful and lovely thing, and we always need more.
Secondly, Matthew Vines, who I started chatting to and exchanging messages with after his YouTube video about the Bible and homosexuality went viral. Matthew's video is detailed, precise and a great resource, but is only the beginning. As someone who has experienced homophobia, and been kicked out of the parish I was serving my curacy in, because the rector had a problem with me being gay, I was grateful to have access to an online tool that I could refer people to, and enjoyed messaging Matthew, and watching the growth of his ministry.
Both Sarah & Matthew have been an encouragement to me, and when the opportunity to take a short trip to Kansas presented itself, I decided it was one I couldn't miss.
It was exciting to meet Sarah and her husband, "The Detective" ;-) , to learn more about the paths we'd walked that helped shape our attitudes to inequality, and to get to know each other better, over copious quantities of affordable, good, BBQ food. We were the last three to leave the restaurant and I left grateful, encouraged (& stuffed).
In order to meet Matthew, I would have to drive right by Topeka, and I had a morbid curiosity about stopping off to look at Westboro Baptist Church (infamous for not having anything positive to say about anything or anyone, and for picketing soldiers' funerals, and praising God for the death of everyone except themselves). I was intrigued, but also apprehensive ... having had such a positive inclusive time so far, I didn't want expose myself unnecessarily to homophobia (it's all unnecessary, but there's enough homophobia in daily life, politics, society and media, without looking for more).
On Matthew's suggestion, however, I stopped by the Equality House (which is across the road from WBC), & knocked on the door, not really knowing if it was a private home or an office (the answer is, both!).
I was met by, and welcomed in by Amelia and Aaron, and found out more about their ministry, about how they're helping to bring hope and a positive message to an area often shrouded in negativity. I learned that the Equality House is a charity, and very much needs the support of others, in order to continue offering themselves in this way. If you have the means, please do consider supporting them financially. If you don't have the means to give financially, support them with your prayers and by making more people aware of them, or by holding a fundraiser for them.
|The Equality House|
Interestingly, because I so enjoyed the Equality House and chatting with Amelia and Aaron, I nearly forgot that I wanted a photo of Westboro Baptist church, and quickly snapped one before rushing off. Their ministry turned a stopover in the same street as Westboro Baptist Church into a positive experience.
|A sad group of people, centred around an angry, xenophobic old man.|
With that done, I continued on to Wichita, and it was great to finally meet up with Matthew in person and discover the mind and person behind his studies and video, and also to learn more about the Reformation project, that has come out of that initial video. The Reformation Project aims to offer intensive training to people, to help them counter homophobia in their communities and congregations.
It was lovely seeing how excited Matthew is by his ministry, and how it energises him. The fight against homophobia and for recognition and equality so often exhausts us, that it's energising to meet someone who themselves is excited by it. When the Reformation Project outgrows it's Wichita base, it'd be lovely to look at bringing it over to the UK, and I'll continue to watch Matthew's progress with interest.
|With Matthew Vines in Wichita|
I'm so glad I got the opportunity to meet up with Sarah & the Detective, & Matthew, and to have the opportunity to add to what has already been such a positive experience in San Francisco on this sabbatical. It's incredible how I've gotten to know most of my contacts for this Sabbatical over the internet, (thank you, Sir Tim Berners-Lee!) and it's been fantastic to get the chance to meet them, and learn so much from such great people.