The Shower of Stoles Project.

As battles rage in many denominations over the ordination of gay, lesbian or trans pastors, or (the Catholic Church) even over their admission to seminaries, we too easily forget that gay men and women have been active in ministry from the very beginnings of Christianity. In recent centuries, public hostility has meant that the millions of such GLBT pastors have found it politic to remain discreet and closeted, but over the last half century, that has changed: more and more people are declaring on the side of honesty.

In some denominations and local congregations (thankfully, an expanding number), people have found that they are able to declare and continue to serve. In others, simple honesty has led to exclusion, to great personal trauma and suffering. The shower of stoles is an ongoing testament to the courage of the expanding number of pastors, from all denominations, who have had the courage of honesty. Note please, that “pastors” here includes all who serve, whether as professional clergy, or as lay ministers.

The Shower of Stoles is a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items representing the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith. These religious leaders have served in thirty-two denominations and faith traditions, in six countries, and on three continents. Each stole contains the story of a GLBT person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community in some way: minister, elder, deacon, teacher, missionary, musician, administrator, or active layperson.

This extraordinary collection celebrates the gifts of GLBT 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 collection bears witness to the huge loss of leadership that the church has brought upon itself because of its own unjust policies.

The vast majority of the stoles have been sent in by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people themselves. Some have been sent by family or friends to honor a GLBT loved one. About one third of all the stoles are donated anonymously; in fact over three-quarters of the stoles donated specifically by clergy and other full-time church professionals are done so anonymously.

In some cases, a church has sent a stole inscribed only with the church’s name, or with the names of both gay and straight members, to honor those in that particular congregation who must remain anonymous. All of the stoles, named or anonymous, contain stories, prayers, or other messages.

With very few exceptions, the Project does not accept individual stoles from straight allies. Instead, straight allies are represented by “signature stoles,” which are easily distinguished from the main body of the collection. Signature stoles are covered with the signatures of supportive members of congregations, regional governing bodies, or other organizations. The collection currently contains signature stoles with the signatures of over three thousand straight allies.

For more, including a list of all 32 faith traditions, see Institute for Welcoming Resources.

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