Washington Park Ward Welcomes Gay Members
Washington Park Ward ∙ Seattle, WA ∙ October 19, 2014
by Lismarie Nyland
After waking up Sunday morning and wrestling with my little boys to get dressed and out the door, we boarded the ferry to Seattle to attend a special sacrament meeting at the Washington Park Ward. The stake president, bishop, and Relief Society president were all involved in planning this meeting focusing on outreach to their LGBT brothers and sisters within their ward, stake, and beyond. I was very excited to hear Mitch Mayne speak and was admittedly disappointed when he was unable to attend due to illness. When I arrived at the North Seattle Stake building, I was again giddy with excitement to find out that Celeste Carolin would be speaking in his place. We had been Facebook friends for some time and now I would get to see her, hear her, and meet her!
In the opening of her talk, she said, “I am openly gay and an active Mormon.” I wanted to cheer! It was the first time I had heard the word “gay” spoken from a Mormon chapel pulpit. She continued to relay her story of self discovery and becoming comfortable being her authentic self. Of particular significance to me was when she spoke of the commandment to love God as being a two way relationship. She had always loved God, but needed to learn to accept God’s love for her. And, in doing so, she learned to love and accept herself and in turn easily loves and accepts others.
Previous to her talk, the Relief Society president, Molly Bennion, spoke and gave a wonderful message of inclusivity. The main point of her talk was that regardless of who you are (unbeliever, tank top wearer, smoker, feminist, non-temple goer, LGBT, etc.) that you are wanted and needed at church and that we should focus on the doctrines that unify us, namely loving one another. The bishop also spoke of broadening our congregations with diversity, inclusivity, and Christ-like love. The stake president wrapped up the meeting with a quick message of love. My audible and appropriate “amen” was accompanied by screams and shouts of “AMEN!” within my heart. I am left now to hope that this sacrament meeting was a tiny glimpse into the future of many sacrament meetings to come.
Below is Celeste Carolin’s talk, given on Sunday, October 19, 2014
Hi, My name is Celeste. I’m an openly gay, active Mormon. As a gay woman, our world has a lot of stereotypes and I would like to clarify a few. I have never played softball. I do not hate men. I do shave my legs. I have never aspired to be a P.E. teacher. The last one is, being gay was not a choice for me. (confession) I do, however, drive a station wagon…and I own a cat.
I want to tell you a story today about fear, anger, choice, loving, and accepting other’s love. I imagine all of you have gone through your own stories, or are going through some of the same process. I grew up in a lot of fear. I grew up in, kind of, a broken family in very rural Montana. In rural Montana, the town we lived in had 2,500 people. I knew most of their names and, in a small town, there are a lot of rumors. You know everybody else’s business because there’s nothing else to do. I didn’t know much about other types of people. I believe, in fourth grade, a black family moved in and I was like, “This is amazing!” I heard rumors sometimes and derogatory language about gays but I didn’t know any of them. I didn’t know anything about it, that’s all I knew.
As life progressed, I ended up living with another family through my late teenage years. They were a really good Mormon family, very conservative. They sent me to college because I wanted to be a bicycle mechanic. They thought it was a poor idea and I should go to college. I ended up going to school at BYU Idaho and it was a really unique experience for me. It was a juxtaposition of really great and really bad.
During that period while I was at BYU Idaho, I realized I was gay. For some reason I had missed that the first few years of life… but there wasn’t a lot of place for it. There wasn’t a place in my religion. There wasn’t place in my testimony. There wasn’t place in my family. I didn’t feel like there was a place in this church. I felt a lot of shame and anger and I didn’t understand. It took a minute. It took a minute to get through that; to get through being there at BYU Idaho where I was supposed to be perfect.
I worked so hard on being perfect. I knew this (being gay) was part of me and I focused really hard on doing my calling, teaching Sunday school, going to devotional, going to FHE, going to every fireside, serving every time I could… because I didn’t know how to do anything else. I thought, if I could do all those things, that this thing, would go away… and it didn’t. It didn’t go away. It just kept festering and with this [significant] amount of shame I felt like I didn’t deserve Heavenly Father’s love. I shut out my family, I shut out my friends, and I isolated myself for a long time.
I felt like I only had two choices and I didn’t really like either of the choices. My first choice was to leave The Church and be authentic about the way I felt. The second choice was to stay in The Church and hide it. I felt like I couldn’t do either of those things. Neither of those things were what I wanted to do.
I spent the next seven years being angry. I imagine all of you have felt a little anger in your life. I would still come to church because of my social connections but I would spend my time in the halls, I would usually leave after about one meeting, and then I would be really cranky about it. I remember one day with my roommates, who were all Mormon, (I really liked Mormons…) I was being kind of cranky about it (church), and I was picking apart all the things that didn’t work for me, and the one girl said, “Then why don’t you just leave? If it’s that bad, then why don’t you just leave?” And I responded, “Well, I don’t want to.” And, in that moment, I felt that I got a sense of clarity. Right there. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to leave but I wanted to change the way I felt. That was the first time I started asking better questions. I got down on my knees and asked Heavenly Father how He felt about me… and, did He love me?… and, was He okay with the way that I was?… and something really beautiful happened. My world changed because I had a Heavenly Father who loved me… and I wasn’t broken.
My healing started with love. My Heavenly Father’s love. There was something that I didn’t understand about the first commandment to love God: that it was a relationship and no matter how much I served and how much I loved, it wasn’t a true relationship because I wasn’t able to accept His love. And then, when I was able to accept His love, it (God’s love) opened up my world.
I started going back to church but I didn’t really know what to do. So, I still lied a little bit. Us girls, when we get together, especially in the single adult wards, we tend to have a junior high approach to dating. When we’d talk about boys, of who we’d kissed and… you know, I’d just make something up. I felt like I landed back up on that fence of choice one, or choice two. It still didn’t work for me.
After seven years in Boston I felt strongly that I needed to move to Seattle. All of my friends were in Boston. I had an awesome job in Boston. I loved Boston. I knew that if I came here (to Seattle) it would be really hard. People that know me well [know] that I’m kind of stubborn and that I like hard things and I felt like, “What an awesome risk this could be!” But, when I came to Seattle, I got a chance to restart. I thought, “What if I was just honest?… What if there was something in-between? What if I just told people, ‘this is a piece of me and I love you!’?… and love them, first?”
When I had the paradigm shift of focusing on “loving them first” it changed my world at church. Every Sunday, my goal was to meet at least five new people and I had this board up on my bedroom wall of people that I was going to connect with, people I was going to go on double dates with, I had a plan! At first, my reasoning was pretty simple. I wanted to come home… and I wanted to come to a home where I felt it was really my home, too.
When I started focusing on who I could love rather than who was not loving me, my world really changed. There were still moments–it wasn’t perfect-that I’d get cornered in the hall. I obviously look different than other people and people would question that. Or, how could I be Mormon and gay? What I tended to do was listen and just love them and always thank them for an opportunity to look at a different perspective. To give them a moment to see me; to see who I am.
By being gay and Mormon, it’s changed my life. When I lived in Conrad, Montana, I wasn’t very tolerant. I wasn’t very loving and I wasn’t very accepting. Being gay has given me the ability to be soft. We talk about Laman and Lemuel and their hardened hearts… I felt like I spent a lot of years with that heart and this opportunity gave me the ability to see people and to truly love them.
I found movement and learnings from this experience. The first was, I didn’t have any movement in my testimony or my relationships when I was angry. I was frozen. I was stuck exactly where I was. The second was, I had to move from my head to my heart. When I was able to feel The Church in my heart, and feel the Spirit, when I was around people that I loved, I got it. I got the simple messages. When I got into my head and I tried to make the plan all work out, it didn’t work and I would feel angry and frustrated. My second greatest learning was that I lived the gospel in my heart. The third thing I learned was that we’re more alike than we are different. So (confession), I actually really love doing hair and watching girl movies, I like singing church songs, and I listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in my car.
I also learned to ask better questions. When I first moved to the Elliott Bay Ward a little over a year ago, I met with the bishop, a fairly-normal practice. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen, because I had already decided that I was going to be honest. I sat down with him and I told him a little bit of my story. I was ready to-I don’t know-I was ready for something. I didn’t know what was going to happen. My bishop started crying… and he said, “It must have been so difficult coming out at BYU Idaho. If you’re comfortable, can you tell me about that?” No assumptions….full compassion…and just love. Alma taught his people that we are to comfort and bear each other’s burdens so that they may become light. In that moment, he lightened my burden.
The next step was a little bit more difficult: to let the ward love me. I was pretty good at, “I’ll put my energy out there,” but I was still tentative. I was tentative that at some point I’d be rejected, at some point that I’d be told I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t belong here. There was a point where I just yielded to Heavenly Father’s love and I let the ward love me.
My experience of being gay and Mormon has created this deep cavity of love. I told one of my good friends this year that I just wanted to quit my job and love people. I wanted to love my brothers and sisters. I wanted them to feel that glimpse that my bishop gave me that day. That glimpse of…I belonged, I was worth it, they needed me, and that there was a place for me at my home.
I feel there has been a buzz in the last year. The Spirit has lead me to the ward I’m in at this present time, and I know it. I know that there is a place for all of us. I know that anyone who wants to be here can grow and learn from the Spirit. I feel the truth of the gospel and I feel God’s continual love through prayer and personal revelation. Most of all, I testify that there is a place for you and I invite you to come home.
I am a surfer, I am a cyclist, and I am an openly gay Mormon. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
See the Salt Lake Tribune report on this event: http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/faith/1731066-155/lds-mormon-ward-brown-gay-members