(1) A Common Religious Heritage – the Anabaptists:
The Mennonite and Brethren share a common religious heritage with
I’m a Baptist and, like the Mennonite and Brethren, our distinctive beliefs
are grounded in the 16th century Anabaptist movement, which are these:
- authority of Scriptures,
- liberty of conscience or freedom of religion,
- separation of church and state,
- nonconformity to the world,
- voluntary church membership and believer’s baptism,
- evangelistic zeal,
- and the priesthood of all believers.
Mennonite and Brethren, unlike Baptists, maintain the Anabaptist
teaching of pacifism or nonresistance.
(2) Gay and Straight – Open and Supporting Families:
The 50 plus attendees at the retreat were both gay and straight and were
about 50/50. Straight families were there along with LGBT people. There
was a true sense of church & family & individual – a living, inclusive
religious community with actual nuclear families at the core. In some
cases, parents where there with their gay son or daughter.
(3) A Common Story – A Defrocked Pastor:
The featured speaker, Randall Spaulding, “the longest-serving pastor in
Southeast Mennonite Conference,” shared his coming-out story and the
subsequent loss of his ministerial credentials with the Mennonites which
were revoked in September of 2009. (Google "Randall Spaulding
Mennonite" for articles.)
(4) A Common Culture – Like Coming Home:
New York City (the Bronx and Queens) has been my home for 14 years
now. I am surrounded by a wonderful diversity of people who,
nonetheless, have nothing in common with my language and
suburban/rural USA culture: whether I’m on the bus, at the gym, in the local
stores, or a church I may attend, etc. (Queens is the most ethnically
diverse urban area in the world.)
In addition, since 2005, during the months of July and August, Jose and I
have invested these eight summer weeks in exciting ministry, working with
remarkable people in Latin America, Africa and Asia; however, all still
outside of my own culture and ethnicity.
(You get the picture.)
In Maryland, where the retreat was held, and with people in attendance
from Indiana to London, Ontario, Canada . . . well, as a central New York
boy who has subsequently lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan and
(relatively) rural Sussex County New Jersey ( – there is such a place in
New Jersey – with many lakes and hills – and New York City doesn’t know it
exists), I was right at home!
The Maryland retreat was a short welcome reprieve from the multicultural
dynamics I deal with on a daily basis both in my ministry (Other Sheep) and
in my Bronx neighborhood. Generally speaking, we all love the familiar
even while celebrating the diversity. To go home is our nature. I was at
home at this retreat. I was with the familiar.
(5) Evening Fellowship in the Cabin – With Old and New Friends:
Jose (my husband) and I travelled from New York City with three individuals
we had “recruited” for the retreat: One friend from China, another from my
college days (that’s going back to the 70s - ouch), and a third friend we
had recently made since last September.
At the retreat we were united with our friends Joey and Forrest, a gay
couple, who we’ve gotten to know and love over the years as fellow lay-
ministers to the LGBT community of faith. Joey partners with Other Sheep
in his outreach to the Pennsylvania German community of faith.
Forrest works with the Mennonite gay community.
Joey and Forrest introduced us to their friends, and during the late
evenings in the cabin – which had a nice open living area – we all sat
around together and exchanged stories. Both evenings, Jose and I did not
retire until 1:00 in the morning.
(6) Music - The Congregational Singing was Uniquely in a Class of its Own
I have never experienced congregational singing like this before, even in
college chapel. I haven't heard singing like this since I heard, in person in
Salt Lake City, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, in 2004. Congregational
Mennonite singing is in parts and with subparts, over-lapping parts, lines
that are something like a "round" -- but more complicated. It is truly
beautiful to hear.
(7) My personal opportunity as a guest speaker – “I laughed; I cried” she told me
Not least of all, I will remember this retreat for the opportunity to speak. I
had been invited to share my story during a one-hour block on Saturday
morning. After the opening singing, comments and introductions, I had
about 40-45 minutes. I had made a PowerPoint presentation which I
interspersed throughout my talk, but found myself speaking more
extemporaneously than sticking strictly to the PowerPoint.
I opened, I believe, by spontaneously telling the audience about the group
of young Mennonites I had met two weeks earlier on the New York subway
– how that I had introduced myself to this touring Mennonite group as a
gay man, a former Baptist minister, who was invited to speak at a gay-
friendly Mennonite gathering in Maryland. “Of course, my conservative
subway Mennonites knew nothing of gay Mennonites, but I insisted there
was such a creature,” so I told my audience; and with this, I was off and
running with my presentation.
I was at home with my audience. It was a wonderful feeling. They were
completely responsive. They laughed and laughed. And they cried. It
was, no doubt, one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a public
No, it wasn’t recorded (this was a safe place where what is said there,
stays there). The sounds and words, the moods and moments shared as
speaker and listener reside only in the collective memories of the retreat
However, as my Baptist professor who taught me Anabaptist history once
said, history is fashioned by men and women who share their faith in words
and deed, whose message was never written down for posterity, whose
works were never recorded for future eyes to read, and whose names were
generally lost to posterity. History is made as we speak and talk, in
groups, to masses, to individuals.
These moments of speaking out-loud our story, though never recorded,
live on in the heart and mind of the listener who, over time, lives out what
he or she has heard, reflected upon and imbibed. This is the history that
matters, the history we write on the hearts of other people. For they,
having become our personal word incarnate in them, live out the message
we’ve delivered, a message that has impacted their lives and will impact
the lives they touch. A living message.
Last weekend (April 20-22, 2012, Friday-Saturday), I attend a Mennonite/Brethren retreat for LGBT people and
their families sponsored by Connecting Families at Pearlsone Conference and Retreat Center of Reisterstown,
Maryland. The retreat will always remain a highlight of my Christian experience as a gay man for these seven
Connecting Families welcomes
families, and supporters of and
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
Connecting Families weekend is
intended to be a safe, relaxing
time to share our common
thoughts regarding sexual
minority issues as they affect
our families, our friends, our
churches, and ourselves.
Connecting Families is a
wonderful, welcoming, and
supportive group. Many have
found the weekend to be an
"incredible source of support,
healing and joy." We hope you
will join us.
Above & Below Photos:
Featured Speaker at
reatreat. Randall is "the
longest-serving pastor in
Conference." He was
defrocked for coming out
as a gay man and
wanting to partner with
another gay man.
Saturday, April 21, at
Pearlstone Conference and
Retreat Center in Maryland.
Photo by Steve Parelli
Above Photo: Jose Ortiz, Other Sheep
Coordinator for Africa and Asia. Connecting
Families Retreat, 2012.
Above photos: Two defrocked "Anabaptist"
pastors: Steve Parelli (Baptist), on the left, and
Randall Spaulding (Mennonite), on the right.
Both Steve and Randall were married
(heterosexual marriage) prior to coming out.
2012 Connectiong Families Retreat.
Steve Parelli and Randall Spaulding
This webpage was created in, and published
from, the Bronx, on Saturday, April 28, 2012.
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