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Stoles of Every Color

Custom-made cloths tell stories of religious people who couldn’t enter the ministry because of their sexual orientation
Monday, January 31, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:12 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Amid walls washed in color, a swath of purple stood out. It was a narrow strip of cloth, folded in half and hung on the wall so that both halves showed. On the left side were three people-shaped cutouts, each a different color. The cutouts were connected by a line of black. On the purple cloth, a card described Erik Christensen’s call to the ministry.

“I pursued other forms of ministry, looking for alternate ways to live out my calling, but I have gradually come to know that I will not find satisfaction anywhere else,” Christensen said. He is gay, and the cloth, or stole, was donated by an Atlanta branch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to tell his story.

Twenty-four liturgical stoles in every color of the rainbow draped the walls of a hallway at Unity Center of Columbia on Sunday. The stoles told the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are active in the leadership of their faith communities. The stoles are part of the Shower of Stoles Project, which is traveling through mid-Missouri this week.

“With the passage of the recent amendment against same-sex marriage, I think that within the LGBT community we’ve been trying to let the religious right that is still against us know that we are spiritual people and we’re not these horrible, immoral persons they want to make us out to be,” said Melissa Hutchens, facilitator of Imagine If, Unity Center’s LGBT support group. “Here in Columbia, this summer, with the constitutional amendment, several churches stepped forward on their own and said, ‘We support your fighting against the amendment,’ and, basically, we’re utilizing those churches right now.”

The Shower of Stoles Project is a collection of more than 1,000 liturgical stoles, many of them decorated in some manner, donated by people from a variety of religious denominations and countries. A stole is a narrow length of cloth that officiating clergy members of some churches wear around their necks or over one of their shoulders.

The project started in 1995 with a collection of 80 stoles sent in by friends and colleagues of Martha Juillerat and her partner, Tammy Lindahl. Juillerat had asked for the stoles at the annual meeting of the Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. They were to be hung in a Kansas City church when Juillerat relinquished her position as an ordained minister after publicly acknowledging her sexual orientation, according to the project’s Web site, www.showerofstoles.org. The stoles kept coming and grew into a collection that is displayed about 150 times a year. Each stole bears the story of an LGBT person who is a leader of his or her faith community in some way — be it as a minister, elder, teacher, missionary, musician or active lay person.

Columbia’s Presbyterian Freedom to Serve Partnership arranged to have the project displayed in a variety of churches throughout the week. Dorothy Angell, a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church, helped to coordinate the event after the national Presbyterian Church asked its members to have a dialogue about homosexuality.

Many of the stoles displayed at Unity Center on Sunday were given anonymously. Others named the person they were given in support of, such as a red stole with a rainbow triangle that read “Jay Kleine ‘came out’ during his senior year at Austin Seminary. Three years later he has no call, no ordination.” Others were filled with names of those who support the LGBT community. Susan Wilson, a member of Friends of God Unity Church in Sunrise Beach, was at Unity Center on Sunday to see the stoles. “I just think they’re wonderful,” said Wilson, who is pursuing a position in the ordained ministry. “It kind of brings to life that we’re all God’s children and we all have gifts to give, and how wonderful that these people are stepping out and doing that. I think for too long it’s been equated that if you’re a gay or lesbian you’re not OK with God and here are all of these people doing God’s wonderful work.”

Angell said she thinks that the project will be welcomed at venues throughout the week.

“I hope people who see it realize there are people who would be valuable servants of the church, but they’re barred because of their sexuality, and this is a problem in all denominations,” Angell said.

Missourian reporter Laura Hammargren contributed to this report.


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