'Shower of Stoles' Exhibit Reminder of Painful Discrimination

Collection Pays Tribute to Defrocked LGBT Church Members

by Crystal A. Proxmire

The stole is a religious symbol in many faiths, identifying someone as clergy or somehow otherwise part of congregational services. But for those who have either been forced to leave their churches, or did not feel wanted there because of their same-sex attraction, giving up the stole can be an emotional and difficult choice.

The Stoles Project began in 1995 as a tribute to de-frocked ministers, pastors, musicians and others in the church. Since that time over 1,000 liturgical stoles from 26 denominations in six countries have been collected.

The collection tours the country, with dozens of stoles displayed to remind people about the sacrifice LGBT people have had to make when forced to choose between the rules of their faith that conflict with the feelings they have in their own hearts. The exhibition will be at Affirmations Community Center from Nov. 8 - 18, and on Nov. 15 there will be a special presentation by Rev. Cheryl L. Burke, an East Lansing-based Associate Conference Minister for the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Burke joined the UCC after several years as an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, where she kept her personal relationship in the closet. "After five years of 'hiding,' something new began to stir in me. After a year of discernment, First Congregational UCC, Huntington, West Virginia extended a call to me, and my journey as an 'out' lesbian in the United Church of Christ began. I received ordained ministerial standing in 1995," Burke told the Stole Project.

Burke hung up her Presbyterian stole and openly joined the UCC. With her entire spirit embraced and affirmed, Burke continued to serve her religious calling. She was ordained in 1995 and has served as interim pastor at First Congregational UCC in Madison, Wisconsin, interim Association Minister for the Chicago Metropolitan Association, and in 2005 she began serving as an Associate Conference Minister in the Michigan Conference.

She and her partner, Rev. Dr. Julie Kilmer, who is also ordained through UCC, had a union service in 1998. Her stole from her closeted Presbyterian days is among those in the Shower of Stoles project, which will be on display.

Shower of Stoles helps to honor those who have given up their unaccepting faith in favor of faiths that are accepting, or no faith at all and it also demonstrates the tremendous loss of church leadership because of LGBT discrimination.

The project is being brought in by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, an organization that has worked on many civil rights issues over the years.

The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are requested so that organizers can plan for refreshments. A suggested donation is welcome. Contact Kevin Hogan at the Michigan Roundtable to confirm your attendance at khogan@michiganroundtable.org.

Find out more about the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion at http://www.miroundtable.org/lgbtfaith.htm. Learn more about the Shower of Stoles Exhibit at http://www.welcomingresources.org/sosp.htm.

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