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Greater NW Pride: Reflecting on Thirty-Five Years


Reflecting on Thirty-Five Years

The invitation: “The Presbytery of Boston invites you to a celebration of joy and peace as Brett P. Webb-Mitchell is ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament at Valley Community Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 27, 1983, at 10:30 am…and installation as Assistant Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of East Boston, Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2:30 pm.” On the outside of the invitation was a small boy in a too-large Genevan gown, with these words from the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). On this day I became “the Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell.”
Thirty-five years ago, I was a closeted gay man, who was married to my best friend. We married in 1978. My former wife and I lived in the student apartments at Princeton Seminary. I graduated from Princeton in 1983, and was enrolled at Harvard University’s Divinity School, pursuing a Th.M., while also called to be Asst. Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, E. Boston, otherwise known as home to Boston’s Logan International Airport. After that, we would move to Chapel Hill, NC, where I would graduate with a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and become “The Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell” in 1988. 
Everything changed in 1999 when I quietly yet publicly came out of my closet while I was simultaneously outed at the place of my employment at the time. While no one could take away my Ph.D., my ordination was now on the line. “The Rev.” part of my life. Even though I experienced the call to ministry as a pastor-teacher-activist, the gay closet I lived in was slowly killing me, literally and figuratively. To live openly and honestly was the only way out of my darkening spiral towards my demise. Being out and gay was not allowed either within the Presbyterian Church (USA) or the United Methodist Church in 1999. Married, with children, I saw both my ordination and teaching position being threatened, simply because I chose to live openly and honestly. But forward I went in this pilgrimage of coming out, and life has never been dull or boring ever since.
Thirty-five years later, I am amazed that I am still an ordained Presbyterian pastor who is out and openly gay, serving a new Presbyterian fellowship—Community of Pilgrims—that is inclusive of all, and that I am the LGBTQ Advocacy Coordinator for the OR-ID UMC Conference. Both of these positions, in a major mainline denomination, would’ve been unheard of 35 years ago. My choice of the passage from Joel came from my time learning to be an advocate, working alongside people with disabilities in the Church. From that time, I already got an inkling of the call to pursue and activist/advocate role in the Church. However, never in a million years did I think my calling would include starting an all-inclusive fellowship, let alone be part of a major mainline denomination like the UMC, as an out gay pastor, advocating for the place and presence of other LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church at large! So, as an older man, what are my dreams? Churches that are welcoming, affirming, and outwardly calling all people to take their place in the body of Christ, in which, by grace, each of us have been called, living openly and honestly, lovingly and with hope in our lives for a brighter day and future glory as we follow Jesus, the Pilgrim God, nudged and accompanied by the Spirit, upon the ground and along the path that God created. The “kingdom”, the realm” of God is now, is here, where justice is practiced and love prevails, as we are all welcomed.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!