The Miracle of God’s Presence

My name is Alan Parkhurst, a member of the Open and Affirming task force with our church. I was asked to give a personal testimony to this subject.

As I was getting ready this morning I was looking around my closet, keeping in mind Rev Luke and Meghan’s numerous educational degrees and their impressive robes and stoles.

All I could come up with for MY church credentials was this apron as the recent 3rd place winner of the  chili cook off.  (Hold up apron)

I have a slightly different perspective than the previous ONA speaker, Michael Sferro.   If you will indulge me, I’d like to go down memory lane with you and my time in this church.

My family moved here in 1962 from Minnesota where we were members of the UCCC and started attending this church.

Forgive me if you think I’m name dropping, but I do want to tell you of some of the great church family that were a part of my growing up in this church.

A very young Nancy Masi  was one of my first Sunday school teachers.    I later taught some of your children in vacation bible school and was supervised by Andy Anderson.  I team taught 5th and 6th grade Sunday school classes with George Gifford.  Our custodian Carl Jessie was constant guidance in help and supervision because he was always in the church.  I attended many a luncheon in fellowship hall headed up by Sally Bauer and her committee.  Jean Linderman wrote many articles about my career and my business for the local papers. Tina Olson and I were in summer theatre together, Sean Daugherty was an employee of mine.  Jan Coleman and I marched in Alumni Band together.   In fact it was Jan that I ran into at Buehlers and she told me about how great this “new minister Luke” was and I should come see him if I hadn’t already.

I became a member of this church in 1970.   My mother was active and served on the council. My sister was married in this beautiful church.  My mother’s funeral was held here.  Her casket was at the base of the sanctuary steps.  My life partner of 23 years, Floyd’s funeral service was in this same church 12 years ago.  I grew up in this church and have been here all these years.  I feel God’s special presence every time I am in this sanctuary.  

The youth program at our church was large and active.  My freshman year in high school the group was affiliated with an organization called TORCH, Teen Outreach thru Christian Help.  We met in either the UCCC Medina, Brecksville or Middleburg hts. Churches. The mission each month was to do projects like painting and rehabbing homes in inner city Watts, Cleveland.  We also worked at the Bessie Benner Metzenbaum receiving home intake center and the Broadview Mental Hospital, giving employees a break playing with the children who lived there.  I believe my experience with the youth group cemented a life of personal satisfaction in being able to give back, enjoy fellowship and have empathy for others.

TORCH created summer mission trips.  At the age of 15 my parents let me join along with Jon Fleming and Nancy Aten from our church to go to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Ethete, Wyoming to conduct a bible school.  Our means of transportation were school buses and we sang for our supper and lodging at host churches along the way providing folk singing.  Circa 1969 think “ Peter, Paul and Mary”  and the Young Americans.

 Jon Fleming would later go on to become a UCCC minister himself Can you imagine how impressive that was for me to see a fellow member of my youth group become an ordained minister in the same church?

Now talk about God’s presence in my life…My senior year in high school despite a full schedule and working after school and weekends, sleeping in on Sunday mornings.  I woke up one Sunday morning at 6 am.  Sat straight up in my bed and had an overwhelming feeling I had to go turn on the televison.  And when I did, there was a friend from my first trip to Wyoming with Torch on TV saying they were doing it again that summer!  Of course that was a sign I had to go along.  We worked at the Wyoming  State Training school for the mentally retarded.  No politically correct or polite names back then.

At the age of just 19 and during finals of my second semester in college in 1973, I opened the Flower Gallery on the square with the help of my parents after attending a famous floral design school in Lakewood, Ohio.

Despite telling my parent’s I thought I was gay when I was 12 and because there was no visibility or representation for Gays at that time, I fell naturally later into dating women in my 20’s. I had 2 meaningful relationships but never felt it would be honest to marry.

 Just as a historical foot note in reference to how things have progressed in human rights:  Remember that not until 1974 could women have credit in their own name without the permission of their husbands.

The only point of reference at this point with homosexuality were drag queens in parades you would see on the news.  I did not relate to them.  The StoneWall  riots around this time were occurring in New York City because it was illegal for gay people to Gather… I must say It is very lonely thinking you are the only person that feels this way  and you can’t open up and share with anyone, lest they expose you.

I was fortunate that my sister was home from college when I made my statement and she took me aside and told me if I ever had any questions I could ask her.  She said her college roommate was a lesbian.  My parents wanted me to see a psychiatrist but I declined.

As I got older and realized that I really was in fact a minority, I looked outside our church because of the traditional shame about homosexuals.  While still maintaining my membership in our church I attended the metropolitan community church in Akron that openly supported minorities.   Wouldn’t it have been nice if in fact I knew that my church supported me and that I  wouldn’t have had to seek outside influence or help?

At this point, there were no Open and Affirming churches within the UCCC Synod.

I met the love my life at the age of 32.  He was the piano player at the Oaks Lodge in Chippewa Lake. I would meet the owner of the restaurant for dinner and while waiting for him, chat with Floyd at the bar during his break.  I had no idea he was Gay.

While I think there was some matchmaking going on via the hostess at the Oaks, I did come home to my shop from an out of town trip to find a note from Floyd asking me to call him. He and his 12 year old son had come into the store to meet me.

When we did meet, It was magic.  We just knew this was right.

Floyd had married his brother’s exwife and even tho he told her he was gay, their Minister said that the church would help “ change “ him.  So much for that advise.  After 9 years they divorced.   It wasn’t unusual back then for gay men to marry women, sometimes with their knowledge and sometimes without.  Society simply had no role models for anything else.

After living apart for six years when his son went off to college we moved in together.

We eventually wanted a place that was ours and purchased the home of my dreams.  I was familiar with and always admired the house because several clients had owned it but I was not familiar with the neighbors. We move in around 1992.

This is where my dream became a nightmare.  When word spread who we were, our home became a target of nonstop harassment.

It started with destruction of the mail box.   After fixing it several times and filling it with concrete to reinforce it, it was obliterated with a bomb that the police said was enough explosives to blow up a two ton car.  Can you imagine if a child had been waiting for the school bus that morning?

Then rocks were hurled at the windows of the house.  The neighbors had a horse barn and corral right next to our home and the kids would throw rocks from behind the barn so as to not get caught.  

Trash starting being piled up in the railroad tie planters in front of the home early each morning.

Our door bell would ring in the middle of the night.

The house had tall floor to ceiling windows and I woke up in the middle of the night to a noise outside and could see red dots from the sights of a hand gun running all over the bedroom walls.

The oldest son of the neighbor was still in high school and had a bonfire party in the fall.   Eventually the 40 or so kids attending were all screaming “ Faggots” and “Floyd’s a Faggot”  Apparently even in hate people like alliteration.  Our lawn was turfed by a kid in a Mustang that same night.

 Soon after the bonfire fiasco, I called the Medina High school principal thinking that maybe they could do some anti hate/ educational programs but nothing ever happened.  The police were not much help either.

I finally stayed up late one night to see who it was that was ringing my door bell and was able to identify the neighbor’s oldest son.

Another morning, I was leaving work extra early and caught another neighbor throwing the trash in the planters at the road.

I spoke about this experience when the city of Medina was passing the LBGTQ legislation to protect job and housing discrimination for this group.  This was around the same time that Rev Luke was accussed in a letter to the editor in the local paper of rewriting the Bible because he too supported the anti discrimination.

I had done research on the passages in the Bible about homosexuality and were relieved to learn that Rev Luke’s education matched what I had learned.  The passages relating to homosexuality were out of context.  They are in the same part of the Bible that tells us not to eat seafood. ( of course they don’t mention it was because people were dying because there was no refrigeration invented yet)   Also You can’t wear mixed cloths…..don’t you wonder what the Bible would do with Stretch polyester now?    Man should not lay with man because at that time procreation was so important.   If you need better clarity on these issues Meghan and Luke can answer them or they have a podcast that explains and explores these issues.  Some of their sermons have touched on these subjects.

Now doesn’t Hate originate from fear and ignorance?   Sometimes it’s also  Fueled by the desire to feel like one person is superior than another? 

From my own history of ignorance and fear:  In my youth I had never seen a or heard of a praying mantis.  I saw one on the window screen one summer, studied it and was so scared, absolutely sure that it was an alien from another planet, I squashed and killed it.  Ignorance.

A perfect part of nature, just as gay people are a part of nature,  but because I was not familiar with and was afraid ( pause )…..I think we can relate this easily to anyone that is different from ourselves.  We aren’t familiar with minorities, whether by skin color, sexual orientation or perhaps just culture.  Sometimes we even shy away from the disabled for the same reasons.

When I was about ten we got a cocker spaniel puppy.  His name was Ignatz.    Ignatz had so much energy  AND chewed everything in sight. We would catch the little guy in my Dad’s office laying on his back,  his tail wagging chewing away at the bottom of his desk he couldn’t see us. When we came in the room if he heard something, he would briefly stop wagging his tail and chewing.  But if he then didn’t hear anything else further he would continue chewing and wagging his tail, oblivious to the outside world with his head under the desk.

I think we are similar.  We create our own world, or algorhymns and blindly chew away, wagging our tails without the reality of the world. We may briefly pause , but then continue chewing and wagging and chewing and wagging.  If our heads are under the desk, isn’t that similar to always surrounding ourselves with people like us, those that look like us, have the same economic status, the same family make up?

I am thankful for the leadership of Luke and Meghan.  They inform, educate and guide, exposing us to new ideas, explaining old ideas but do not dictate what we are to believe   They let us discover it on our own and make our own decisions.  We are not judged. I believe they have laid the framework, answered the questions about ONA and council has led us to this decision.

I too am thankful for my parents that loved and supported their gay son. Not every child receives this treatment. Medina has made progress on this issue, the local high school has a Gay Straight Alliance group and the school also recently presented “ The Prom” based on a child’s discrimination in Indiana.

And on one final note, we must do this for our children.  The number of LBGTQ children that commit or attempt to commit suicide is alarming.  The percentages are enormous.  We must help change the world so these children have the time, love and acceptance to come to the terms of their life on their own, without fear of rejection.  They need to see others like them.

So to my point.  I have been your resident homosexual for over 60 years..  What I am asking is that you extend the same grace, acceptance, love, patience, dignity and friendship you’ve given me to others like me by voting yes for adoption of our Open and Affirming church.

I’ll end with the words of a distant cousin of mine, President Rutherford B Hayes, the 19th president of the United States.  “ Conscience  is the authentic voice of God to you.”


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