A display of liturgical stoles at the Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale shines a spotlight on the struggles of religious leaders who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
The 40 or so stoles at the church are part of the “Shower of Stoles” project created by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources.
The Shower of Stoles “celebrates the gifts of LGBT persons who serve God in countless ways while also lifting up those who have been excluded from service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” The project also “bears witness to the huge loss of leadership that the church has brought upon itself because of its own unjust policies.”
There are 1,000 handmade stoles in the collection from more than 30 denominations and faith traditions from six countries on three continents. Pieces from the collection are on loan to congregations, universities, and seminaries.
Each stole tells a story. One of the stoles on display in Annandale is dedicated to an anonymous ordained pastor in the Baltimore-Washington United Methodist Church who is a closeted lesbian. “I have endured cruel and unusual treatment from the leadership and lay persons in the church who oppressed women pastors,” she write in a message attached to the stole.
A note on a stole submitted by the Rev. Jeffrey Breen says he had to leave his position as a pastor at a small church in Mississippi because, “although the parish still doesn’t know I’m gay, another local minister made threats against me.” He says it took “six painful years before I found a congregation that I could call home, and I am finally preparing for a possible return to pastoral ministry.”
Another stole is in honor of Miranda Keefe, a teacher and former youth pastor at the St. James Presbyterian Church in Bellingham, Wash. She is hoping to resume her ordination, which she had to given up after transitioning from being a man to a woman.
A few of the stoles on display are from leaders of welcoming, inclusive churches, like the rainbow-colored stole in honor of the fifth anniversary of the “open and affirming” Congregational Church in Needham, Mass.
The Little River United Church of Christ also identifies itself as “an open and affirming congregation,” although the Rev. Susan Henderson, the church’s interim senior minister, doesn’t know how many of its 550 or so members are part of the LGBT community. The congregation is preparing to vote on a resolution supporting “equal marriage rights for all.”
The display of stoles is open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., through Oct. 31. The church is at 8410 Little River Turnpike.