A few weeks ago, I was standing in the chapel foyer on my way to teach my Sunday School class. I ran into Harry, the Second Counselor in the Bishopric from the Oakland First Ward. (For those who are non members, a ward is a local congregation from a specific geographic area that meets together. A ward is presided over by a Bishop, the equivalent of a pastor in other religions. Two counselors serve with the bishop to help with administrative duties and also preside in the absence of the bishop.)
Harry greeted me with his usual warm smile—he’s a tall, wiry man who’s built very much like a runner. His eyes had an unusual sparkle that morning, and his handshake was even more vigorous and enthusiastic than normal. “Mitch! How good it is to see you!” I couldn’t help but return that kind of smile and enthusiasm, and responded with “Harry, it’s great to see you, too.”
“Do you have a moment to chat?” he asked. “Of course,” I responded, “as long as you’re not going to ask me to teach another class,” I said in jest. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well,” he said in a more solemn tone, “I’d like to speak to you outside.”
We walked onto the flagstone patio outside the chapel foyer together. Once outside, I turned again to look at him, and noticed that behind his glasses, his eyes had begun to fill with tears.
“I’ve just learned the truth about who you are,” he said, and his voice cracked with emotion. I couldn’t help but smile a bit when he spoke—knowing exactly what he meant—that I am a gay Mormon. “I want to let you know that I love you,” he continued. “I am so proud that you come here week after week and fulfill your callings in good cheer. It makes no difference to me whether or not you are gay--I want you here, and I want you to know that I love you for who you are.”
By this point, we were both tearful. I said nothing at first, and even with my hands full of materials for my Sunday School class, threw my arms around him and gave him a big, heartfelt hug. He returned my hug with the same enthusiasm with which he had originally approached me.
Here was Harry, a middle aged, white, heterosexual and multi-generational Mormon, from a small town in Idaho—offering me his unconditional support and love. In that moment I was reminded again that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and exactly where my Father in Heaven wants me to be. I was reminded that I belong, I have something important to contribute to this church, and I that I am loved.
How grateful I am that Harry was humble enough to be an instrument in the hands of my Father, to deliver the message that I am on the right track. We spoke for a few moments more, and while it never became clear how Harry knew—some of my published writing, word of mouth—it matters not. What does matter is that he took the time to reach out and let me know how much he valued me—not for who he thought I was, but for who I actually am.
I ended our conversation by thanking him, and asked him as he considers who I “really am,” to be careful to never consider me a victim—because I am not. I am exactly as my Father in Heaven made me, and exactly where he wants me to be. Rather, I asked him to consider me a unique and valuable asset available to him in his leadership role within the Bishopric—because that is what I am: An ordinary man, blessed to be in an extraordinary circumstance. And, a man who is willing to bring that experience to bear to help others in my situation as they strive to figure out their place within the gospel, and within the Mormon Church.
I am a blessed man to be where I am, and to have the kind of support locally that I have—and I know it. Any success I have touching the lives of other gay and lesbian Mormons who feel disconnected from a church—and therefore the God of their understanding—belongs not just to me. My success also belongs to people like Harry, and most of all, to my Savior. How blessed and humbled I am to be an instrument in His hands, and to be surrounded by those who are willing to be the same.