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
This is a lovely article. However, if we can come to the ward house to pay our respects and our tithes then it is clear our money is welcome. If they will not marry us at that same ward house, then we as LGBTQ are merely tolerated. Let me know when a gay marriage at the ward house happens? That’s when I know we are welcome in that congregation.
My wife and I are out in our ward. While they treat us well, it’s hard to hear some of the lessons and the general authorities talk. We went to this sacrament meeting and it lit a new fire in us. Not only were they not saying gays were bad, they were saying gays belong here.
My wife and I and our kids are going again this week. We hope to keep hearing the same message.
Would be awesome to see other gay and lesbian couples/families there too.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Celeste. I am so grateful you have had the courage to be yourself and even more grateful that you have been surrounded by compassionate, loving church members and leaders. Things are changing in our church….for which I am most grateful!
Your compassion for others is humbling and refreshing. At the same time, I am filled with a sense of sadness reading your story, and how much you have had to endure as a result of others’ unwillingness to see you beyond their firmly held stereotypes. It also hurts me that you must take it upon yourself to love and educate others when I feel that bias and intolerance represent societal and religious problems, not yours. You’re wonderful. Thank you for sharing.
I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a question has been on my mind for some time now. In no way is my intent to offend or spur an argument. I am sincerely interested in the perspective of openly gay members of the church. But first, let me state explicitly that I long to see sinners of all walks of life attend church without one bit of judgement, whispering, gossiping, or staring from the regular or “active” members of the church. I’m sick of how exclusive and judgemental congregations can be. I witnessed plenty of this while serving my mission and it breaks my heart.
With that said, my question is as follows: We are all sinners, and each of us have personal weaknesses and struggles with sin. I know I do! It seems that since I can remember I have struggled with my personal temptations and that is why I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ so much; it is a gospel of hope, love, strength, forgiveness, and most especially–change.
Of course this process of change is the principle of repentance. The sermons in the scriptures, from our living-day prophets and apostles, and from church pulpits foster a spirit of repentance centered on faith in Jesus Christ. It seems almost every Sunday I hear a message that touches on sins I myself am guilty of. This “call to repentance” is much needed and draws me closer to my Savior if I am humble.
Now, this is where my question comes in. When more openly gay members begin attending church (which I pray they do!) will they be offended when a Sunday school lesson, a sacrament talk, or a passage of scripture read in class touches on the sin of engaging in homosexual behaviors? Or when the lesson touches on the doctrine of how “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God?” Will covering these subjects cause openly gay members to feel offended by heterosexual members? Will it cause them to stand up and leave or to not feel welcome? I hope no offense is taken, but surely these scenarios will arise and the reactions will be individual and case specific.
But what are the members to do? Stop preaching repentance for fear of offending the alcoholics in the ward? Or stop condemning pornography in fear of offending the priesthood brethren who the bishop knows are struggling with it? Should we stop preaching marital fidelity in fear of offending the adulterer and having him stand up and walk out of class? Or should we hold our tongues in preaching repentance to the homosexual and walk on eggshells around openly gay members?
Can you imagine the Savior altering or discontinuing His sermons in fear of offending the sinner? Of course you can’t, because he didn’t. In fact, his words were so sharp, so piercing, and so cutting that those who hardened their hearts and took offense where numbered among his persecutors.
The day openly gay member attendance increases dramatically is a great day! It’s a day members need be more inclusive and loving. It’s a day more of God’s children are where He hopes they’ll be. And it’s also a day that His commandments and doctrine do not change. As long as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is taught at church, repentance will be the main takeaway. And homosexuality, listed among other acts of immorality such as incest, fornication, and adultery through the Lord’s written and spoken word, will be numbered among one of those sins we are to avoid and repent of.
While my question clearly doesn’t have one answer, I hope it can spur conversation and prevent any of our brothers and sisters from being offended. I just hope when these scenarios arise that the teacher is always delivering the “call to repentance” in a spirit of love and that openly gay members will receive it with open and understanding hearts. If offense is taken, the Savior’s doctrine is the offender–NOT the member from whose mouth the doctrine came forth, as it is with all of our sins.
I am so deeply touched by your words and your spirit. I was raised south of San Fransisco and learned early on not to choose friends by their color, religion or sexual orientation, or you could miss out on getting to know some amazing people. I joined this church after high school, attended Ricks, BYU Provo, been married to the same man for over 37 years,…. Yet my best friend from high school is gay. I don’t know if she knows that I know or not. We have never discussed it. I’ve never wanted her to feel like it’s a barrier. She knows that I am Mormon and that I love her and appreciate her. I wish she could feel as comfortable as you. And feel God’s love.
Thank you so much for sharing,
With love, Debby, your Sister in Christ
I am weeping for joy, Celeste . Carolin is my daughter! I did not even know she was giving this talk. I am so proud of her and her dynamic spirit is a testimony to me every day of what love truly is. I used to tell her when she was growing up that she was the perfect daughter. She would become very angry with me. When she told me she was gay, I was not surprised and it did not change anything about the way I felt about her. She was still the perfect daughter . She has taught me so much and continues to do so every day. I am so great full to be her mom!
Best talk I’ve ever heard in a Sacrament mtg! You brought the Savior’s love with you that day and wrapped us all in His embrace. Bless you Celeste. Your talk, along with the others, created a safe, accepting place for those of us on the edges. I felt I was in a holy place.
This was amazing! Congratulations Celeste! I will spread this word to as many people as I can. Thank you for being such an inspiration to so many. I hope this travels the world!
Would that I could worship with my gay brothers and sisters in my local congregation and hear similar uplifting words. At the very least, I’m glad to read it online. Three cheers for this Seattle ward!
My heart goes out to you in what you have endured and who you have become as a result.
Years ago I had a good friend reveal that he was in fact gay and he related the process of his life and it changed my heart and I have been more open and supportive since that time.
Thanks for sharing your experience and thanks for being brave an honest.
Thank you for sharing. I am a convert of about 25 years, joining the church in university. Served a great mission, married in the Temple, lots of kids, etc. Back in the 90s, some friends of mine were very much into the “pro family” movement, which was very anti gay. I read their literature, and was freaked out by the so called “gay agenda”. I must confess, I believed a lot of what I read about “gayness” being a choice, and that gay people can receive therapy and stop being gay. I also was one of those Mormons who believed that every word a church leader said was gospel. I was never mean though, but my leanings were pro family. Then something funny happened. I became good friends with a gay man. And I became good friends with his partner. I am not gay let me add. These guys are amazing guys!! And, over time, they allowed me to ask them questions that I had about being gay, coming out, how long they felt they were gay, was it a choice, etc. I came to realize through this, and through other experiences that our church leaders are not always inspired in what they say, and that the culture of the church can be very petty and cruel at times, as well as very judgmental. My heart softened, and as I learned from my gay friends about what it means to be gay, and the struggle they went through, and also learned how good these men were, I had a huge paradigm shift. As I said, my heart softened, and I realized that I had been judgmental, and was not being true to my absolute core values which are to love God and love my neighbor. I changed. I love my gay friends like brothers. I have had them in my home on countless occasions, and hang out with them a lot. We share conversation about many things, my kids, our careers, marriage, attractive guys/girls, church, and it is wonderful because we don’t care about gay/straight/mormon points of view. WE DON’T CARE!! I can share an important thing with them, and they are interested, and visa versa. We just accept each other. One day I was talking with one of my gay friends, and we were talking about tolerance in society. As I was trying to explain how my heart felt, I told my friend that I thought I was very tolerant of others beliefs and sexual orientations. And he gave me a great compliment. He said “you don’t care”, meaning it makes no difference to me whether a person is gay or straight. I will not love any less regardless. I am so happy that my eyes were opened, and that I can now look upon all of my brothers and sisters equally, without judgement, and with love. Makes me sad to think of how I was before. Thank you again for sharing. I look forward to the day when the church culture evolves to be more opening and accepting of all others. After all, we should be the most tolerant of all God’s children. . .
And sadly in her church she will never be allowed to be married in the church or sealed in the temple.
Many young people like here who are hurt growing up turn to churches with strong family values in an attempt to repair the damage of their childhood but sadly this young woman will be both loved and alone in the church as she can never act on her sexuality since they don’t recognize gay marriage.
Knowledge, tongues, even prophecies shall pass away, but charity never will.
Having been a witness to prophecy being done away with could we be on the cusp of another? So although everything has it’s time and place charity is eternal.
I too love this church. Paul tells us not to be alarmed when change comes but to be charitable.
Are you able to attend the Temple and partake of the sacrament? I have a gay son living in Seattle, and I am hopeful that someday he may see it the way you do. We love him. For now he took a left turn when you took a right.
Thank you so much for your words, Celeste. I have a gay son who has found and married a wonderful man, and is living happily after many years of pain caused by society and moreso by the church.
I have built up walls against this church that has created damaging policies, and against the men who carried them out, in the form of excommunicating my beautiful young son a couple of years after his amazing mission.
I have a great struggle relating with ward and stake members who think such an action was proper.
By applying some of your suggestions, and looking outward toward others, perhaps I can rebuild some connections and relationships after a decade or more of holding back…