The sacraments were being passed from person to person in the Sunday morning church meeting. It started with a small plate with a slice of bread being shared. Each baptized member pinched off a small piece and consumed it before handing it to the person beside them. Next, a blessing was made for the cup before it was ceremoniously passed in communion. The cup contained grape juice and was symbolic of the blood of Jesus. Each person took a sip as it was passed to them.
John, the elder whose home this meeting was taking place in, would normally be the last person to partake before returning the plate and cup to a table in the centre of the room and covering them with a cloth. This Sunday was different. John took his sip from the cup and handed it to me. Before the meeting started, I had been instructed I was to sit beside him. In my over thirty years of attending these services from the time I was born, never did anyone but the elder take the sacraments last. It was unheard of.
I wasn’t chosen that Sunday to be the last to take the sacraments as a position of honour. Quite the opposite - it was a position of shame. I had just come out as gay. The church ministers informed me this new protocol would be in place going forward “due to my homosexuality” while they audibly prayed over me, asking God to forgive my sin, and that He would open my eyes to realize the blood of Jesus would atone for me if I repented.
This church group often withheld the sacraments as punishment to control and modify behaviour for members who didn’t toe the line. I had seen that happen in the past, but this tactic of singling me out, openly shaming me for being gay, and bringing group attention to me was devastating. There wouldn’t be another Sunday of this new protocol as I never went back.
Those with a deep faith, whose support is found in a faith community, are some of the most vulnerable to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change efforts (SOGIECE). Many LGBTQ2S+ people do not recognize they have experienced SOGIECE, even though they have been harmed by pressures and expectations of change.
When I walked away from John’s house that Sunday morning, I wasn’t just walking away from the attempt to shame me for being gay. I was also walking away from my church community, and they were my whole world. Their silent consent to this treatment was hidden behind smiling faces and handshakes. It had a long-lasting impact on me.
That was over 25 years ago, and at the time, I found no resources to help me cope. No one stood up and said, “This is not okay.” It is now, with a worldwide focus on conversion therapy, that resources are starting to become available. If you have a similar story or were in a conversion therapy program, you may benefit from connecting with a community of survivors. Check out the CT Survivors website here for resources and stories of survivors. Generous Space Ministries is also developing resources for LGBTQ2S+ people harmed by expectations of change.
Wilbur Turner (he/him), who identifies as gay and queer, is a Kelowna-based writer and advocate who has contributed on many levels to LGBTQ rights, both locally and internationally.
(Image Credit: ctsurvivors.org)