A Memoir by Johnathen Sweeney

SETTING: A Sunday in September at a church in the middle of a college town in Ohio. 

The BISHOP just finished his sermon and the PRIEST is standing next to him.

She then speaks to the CONGREGATION.

PRIEST: I present Johnathen to be received into this Communion.

(I, nervously, come up to the bishop who standing in front of the altar).

BISHOP: Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?

ME: (Looking at my church bulletin) I do.

BISHOP: Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?

ME: I do, (gulps) and with God’s grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord. (I should probably speak a little louder.)

BISHOP: (addresses the CONGREGATION in his authoritative and godly voice): Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?

CONGREGATION: (In rehearsed, but still enthusiastic fashion) We will.

BISHOP: Let us join with those who are committing themselves to Christ and renew our own baptismal covenant.

(The Baptismal covenant is read)

BISHOP: Let us now pray for these persons who have renewed their commitment to Christ.

(A prayer for ME is read).

BISHOP: Almighty God, we thank you that by the death and resurrection of your Son

Jesus Christ … by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service.

Renew in these your servants … Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them… Amen.

(I kneel on the steps. The BISHOP lays his hands on ME; My eyes are close and can feel the solemnity of the moment piercing my soul.I can feel his hot, stale breath breezing past me. Then I remind myself this is a solemn event).

BISHOP: Johnathen, we recognize you as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion. God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you. Amen.

(I let out a sigh, not one anyone could see through).

If you’re Catholic, this whole event may seem familiar to you. In fact, you might have gone through a process very much like this when you were younger. Like millions of other Catholics, you were probably confirmed, with a bishop and all that. Like those millions of Catholics, so was I. In a Catholic church. By a Catholic Archbishop. In a Catholic sacrament. All in Catholic tradition. That was six years ago. This event I just described happened this month.

I am no longer Catholic; I left that Church at least four years ago. Now, I am a proud member of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, a province of the Anglican communion, the third largest Christian communion in the world. Yes, Anglican, relating to church of England, that church founded by that pesky King Edward XIII just so he can remarry. But, we’ve moved beyond that  (thankfully). The event I just described was my reception into the Episcopal Church; since I’ve already been confirmed by an apostolic church.

Your first hint might have been when I referred to the priest as a she. We openly ordain those who identify as women to the priesthood. We also openly and happily ordain Queer folks. Our clergy can also marry and have families. That all is definitely not Catholic. To complicate things more, we don’t require confirmation as a prerequisite to receive Eucharist. We don’t have a Pope, but a Presiding Bishop who is primus inter pares with the other bishops.

I wouldn’t say i’m the most religious person out there, but compared to a lot of my peers I think I am relatively more religious. I at least attend church twice a month. I am also queer and me and religion have a strained, but ultimately more glorious, relationship. Religion has hurt me, but then also empowered me. Religion has made me question my existence, but then also made me know my purpose. Religion has made me scared, but then also made be elastic. Religion has made me be afraid, but then also be curious. Religion has been weaponized against me and others, but I am taking it back … I have to take it back.

To begin, let’s look at some history (I promise this won’t be as boring as your introductory history seminar that started at 9 a.m. your freshman year).

My family (well, really my dad) is technically Catholic with a capital C, but more so with a lowercase c. We only went to Mass for Easter, Christmas and maybe once more. My parents never really seemed too religious. Or, at least they never really outwardly expressed it. I think all that changed when my dad’s mom died in 2009 at the age of 91. His dad died in 1968 when my dad was 15. My grandma was never really outwardly religious either, nor Catholic, but I know she at least raised my dad and his siblings Catholic even after my grandpa died. From what I gathered, when we started taking RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation Classes) in 2011/2012, it was in part in memory of his mom, who he said would have wanted to see us confirmed.

But, alas, even after the month of classes and then the confirmation we still rarely went to Mass.

I’ve known I liked men since the fourth grade. My earliest memory was when I was standing in line and I thought to myself the boy in front of me was cute. There wasn’t much after that, but when my junior high years hit that’s when I really noticed it. I was really conflicted. I never really had that religious background to make me feel conflicted, it was more about how people would react in general. I came out in February 2013 (I was 14) through a Facebook post (even though I said I was bisexual, which at 20 I just say I’m queer).

I guess my parents reacted relatively well to it. At least at first, but I think as time evolved and he magically started remembering Jesus was a thing, my dad wanted to talk to me about it.

DAD: Son, can you come in here, please. I need to talk to you.

ME: Sure.

DAD: And, close the door please.

(I close the door, not knowing what was about to hit me).

DAD: I want to talk about this bisexual thing. I want you to research the Church’s official stance on it and write it down for me. (My mom is laying down to him silent, obviously distracting herself from this event).

ME: (Literally just comprehending what the hell is going on) Why?

DAD: Because I think it’s important. You’re a Christian and it’s important. (He, too, seems uncomfortable).

ME: Um, sure. (Internally scared and confused. Why Is my dad doing this? Is he going to kick me out? How is this all going to play out? I was only 14. I had no idea what to do).

That’s when I realised my place as a Queer person in this world. That was the first time that “my” religion and my sexuality battled each other. But, then, six years later, I’m at a church that embraces Queer people, that embraces women as clergy, that lets the congregants think for themselves. A church that is fully welcoming and accepting to all of God’s people.