Curiosity, Closets, and Confirmation Oh My!
Seminary was the come to Jesus moment of my life that really allowed me to wrestle with myself and God. So many of my perceptions up until seminary were turned topsy turvy once I experienced the influx of new information and the liberative space to process it. I met myself maybe for the very first time in a place where I was allowed to give myself permission to expand and accept new or not so new truths about myself.
The great awakening for me was around my sexuality, which started at age seven with my curiosity around my first kiss. That kiss happened with the red headed little girl from down the street. We placed torn paper towel bits on our tongues to make it safe. Ha!
The next time I confronted this curiosity was when I was 18. I lived in a gay neighborhood called “Boys Town” on Chicago’s North Side. I met a bartender named Cruse who took me to clubs and into a world I had only wondered about. When I shared my excitement and newfound joy with my mother, she was taken aback, and her retort shoved me into a heteronormative closet where I lived until seminary.
In seminary, I allowed myself to revisit my closeted truth and to live it out loud. I would walk the campus saying the word “lesbian” under my breath as if I was trying on a new pair of fabulous Jimmy Choo shoes. Finally, I was able to merge my inside with my external identity. I asked myself questions. I answered them honestly and with abandon, I settled into my skin with a bold new acceptance. I came home to myself.
I never believed that God didn’t love me or anyone else who lived an inward or external life of love that did not fit neatly inside the heteronormative box. Thankfully, I didn’t have to unlearn a harmful theological purity culture formation that condemned same sex loving folks to hell.
My beautiful experience of confirmation came when I was in seminary and shared my new coming out story with my mother, who had dementia. I told her that I found someone, who was a woman, to share my life with. She paused and said,“As long as you're happy.”Come on Sheri, in that full circle moment lucid AF!
Fast forward two years, I started my first pastorate in November 2019.With my Chicago vibe and newly minted progressive seminary degree, I was called to lead the transformation of a church entrenched in the 1950s.
It must be noted that the city where my church resides is an experience in time travel. Very conservative, rather racist, sexist/patriarchal, and homophobic. It is like a real parched desert stuck in the ‘50s. I’m sure it’s not their fault, the world around Lancaster, CA just left them in the desert dust and progressed.
I lead a congregation where we welcome ALL! It was a hard road to get communal acceptance and support to become an open and affirming church.Mind you, there was a married lesbian couple in the congregation for eight years already. When I first started broaching the subject of inclusion with my original community, surprisingly, folks just left the church without so much as a conversation. I offered opportunities for conversation and exploration as AllianceQ suggests, and no one would step into the space of learning.
During a board meeting, a 70-something-year-old man asked me, “What if folks think I’m gay?” I shared that he was in the room with three lesbians, and it didn’t rub off on him. I’m not sure that eased his mind.
Some folks said they didn’t want us to put the Pride flag on the website. When I shared some of the pushback I was hearing with my dear clergy friend Rev. Dr. Julie Roberts Fronk, she said to me, “We have to be extravagant with our love because others are extravagant with their hate.”
What really is an interesting ride for me is when religious folx walk up to me to start a negative conversation with me about the LGBTQ community. I really get a kick out of that. I get to tell them that they can’t just assume by looking at someone that folks will co-sign on their perspectives. That in fact, I represent that community.
I now have trans folks, gay and lesbian folks who have braved the possibility of experiencing church hurt again who were brave enough to believe me when I said we have a trauma informed, safer sacred space for ALL. We really do BLEND. It is a wonderful blessing to be a safer sacred space of inclusion and care.
My dream for the planet is that we really begin to collectively treat God’s children with the respect and inclusion that they deserve, like Jesus does. My x-husband just said to me, “If the lights are out, you should see everyone in their humanity, period.” I hope we are making our way to do the same in the Light of Jesus!
There are so many folks globally that are ostracized like lepers, humiliated, harmed, killed, excommunicated, and disowned, which can result in suicidal ideation, severe depression, and homelessness. Church, we can do better than this! We are the haven from the storm and the holy spaces of refuge and care, aren’t we? Aren’t we a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world?” As Arsenio Hall used to say, “Let’s get busy.” I know, I am dating myself. I am an ‘80s throwback all day!
Rev. Courtney Armento is driven to inspire the power of community to create systemic change. In that vein she co-authored resolution GA-1928: A Call to See and Respond to the Crisis of Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence. Courtney is intentionally Un*Unsilencing Domestic Violence with her training curriculum.
Courtney is a DSF/Claremont School of Theology graduate (2019/M.Div.) and earned a 40-hour certificate in Domestic Violence Crisis Intervention in 2018. She was ordained in the CC(DOC) in 2020. She earned a STAR I certificate (Strategies for Trauma and Resilience) in 2021. She is also a Midwife Pastor for theBLEND Church Family in Lancaster, CA. She leads a group of impassioned pastors, called WHOLE Disciples, who collaborate on ways to bring the wider church into conversation and action around Abuse Awareness and align with GA-1928. Prior to seminary, she garnered over 20 years of experience in hospitality management, accounting management, and specialized in key organizational innovation strategies for performance enhancement and risk reduction.