What do spirituality and sexuality have in common? How about Christianity and the LGBTQ+ community? Such topics took center stage through discussions surrounding identity, inclusion, and allyship at a recent youth event for the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio.
Occurring from November 5-7th at St. Michael’s In the Hills Episcopal Church in Toledo, Ohio, the event was a way for youth in grades 6-12 to learn more about LGBTQ+-related topics, share their stories, hear from others’ experiences, and explore the intersectionality of faith and the LGBTQ+ community.
Reverend Anna Sutterisch, the Canon for Christian Formation of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, was beyond excited to carry out this event. With 18 youth coming from across the state, Rev. Anna’s only concern was the carpool situation, which she jokingly said “will be a nightmare.”
The first day of the event was dedicated to giving the youth the chance to get to know each other through icebreakers, while the following days focused on workshops, discussions, storytelling, free time, and worship. The youth also had the chance to hear the stories of older Episcopalians who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and learn more about their own identities.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Rev. Anna to learn more about the event as well as the culture of inclusivity toward the LGBTQ+ community fostered by the Episcopal Church.
How did the the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio come to sponsor this event?
Last November, I held a “Canceling Racism” weekend for my high schoolers. I had nine kids come and spend a weekend following a curriculum…just really diving into white privilege, to what is power, to classism, to history. At the end of that weekend, I said, “Where do we go from here?” I listened to them and they said all weekend that we need this for LGBTQ+ issues. So in June, we had an event, and I made them tell me more. I was like, “Do you want it to be about advocacy, do you want to learn about intersectionality, do you just need terminology… What do you need?” I took their ideas, and [that resulted in]four workshops.
The first one is on basic terminology and intersectionality. Then the second one is queer theology, [so]what does the Bible really say, and how do you clap back when people use that one Bible verse taken out of context. And then the third one is on mental health and allyship. The fourth one is on queer history, and also advocacy and policy, and that one is being taught by one of my seniors in high school; she identifies as bi, and she’s just so passionate about queer history.
At dinner, we invited four or five guests who are adults and are Episcopalian to come for some storytelling.
What has been the reception of the event?
I’ve only had one negative email, but everyone else has been [positive]. I got an email saying, “I’m so glad this is happening,” and a similar [one saying], “This is what the church needs to be doing,” [and another saying], “This never would have happened, and I’m so glad that our church has evolved to be happening now.”
Talk about your hopes for the event.
I think a lot of these youth have an inherited sense of the power of queerness and confidence around it, and what I’m really hoping is to bring in spirituality and Christianity so that they know the intersectionality of faith and your gender expression, or your sexual [orientation]. This is not a queer workshop; this is about being Christians and being queer or being allies. [It also involves] bringing in a holistic, reflective, spiritual approach to LGBTQ+ issues of all kinds.
We also have some kids who are super questioning, and they just don’t have a community [where they can]experiment and to talk about it. So the safe spaces we can provide are just an opportunity for them to be able to be vulnerable in whatever journey they’re going through.
What is the overall perception of the LGBTQ+ community in the Episcopal Church? What makes the Episcopal Church unique?
We are oh so open! God loves you, no exceptions! So that’s our tagline: God loves you, no exceptions. And we really mean that.
This is my favorite story about this. I was at the general convention when we were voting to not just bless, but also completely authorize that any two people could marry each other. I went to a committee meeting before the vote, and someone stood up and said, “I need you to pray for me, because I have been reading and studying and talking for three years, and God is just not telling me that this is okay. I really think that marriage is between a man and a woman. But clearly God is telling you other things, and you are hearing different things from the Spirit, so I need you to pray that God would also speak to me.”
And then it passed the same day that the Supreme Court case passed, so it was just like a good day. I’m sure a lot of people in that room thought we were heretical and going to hell or whatever, but we’re unified as a church, and we’re accepting.
What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ youth thinking of joining the Episcopal church?
To build relationships. There are queer people in every Episcopal church, and there are allies in every Episcopal church. Talk to the clergy person, or talk to leadership, or talk to one of the old ladies that’s sitting in a pew. You are loved by God and by people, and if anyone tells you otherwise, then they’re wrong. You are loved exactly as you are; no matter who you are, or what you do, God loves you.
What are your hopes for the future regarding the LGBTQ+ community in the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio?
To have everything we do reflect a complex understanding of gender, including our language, and our liturgy, and our leadership. We’ve had two people come through the process of ordination who are nonbinary, and they’ve ended up transferring to a different diocese to continue the process. It wasn’t oppression, [but rather]that people didn’t get it; they didn’t understand the nonbinary gender expression. I submitted a resolution for a convention this year that hopefully will pass that’s requiring all our Diocesan publications to use non-gendered language, so whether that’s ‘they/them,’ or a different word just to avoid it all together. [This is] so that everyone can see the face of themselves in the church. So I think our next task will be around gender and nonbinary [identity], in particular. 🔥