To all who worshiped at the church, he was simply Bruce. He was a very detailed, dedicated, committed and exceptional Head Verger. He was usually the first to arrive at the church each Sunday morning to set up and assign roles for both clergy and lay who were to participate in worship. Bruce will often attend staff meetings on Tuesday mornings to get a handle of the life of the church and, more importantly, how he could give off his best. He was an unassuming gentleman who simply loved what he did.
We can attest to the depth of his spirituality only by virtue of what he did, and how he did it. He had a servant’s heart. On that, we could all agree. If spirituality is an outward expression of that which burns deep within you - the powerful sense of awareness of God’s presence in you - a God who daily rekindles His love within you just so that giving off your very best isn’t a question of if, but of when.
Bruce had loads of them, and his spirituality was genuine and transforming. People often wondered, how and why would this man devote himself in such a manner in service to God? One remarkable story about Bruce was that he only missed church when he travels to New Hampshire to visit his mother. Beyond that, he was present, bright and early each Sunday, visible and serving.
So, here was a man for whom the joy of the Lord was his strength, and that joy was very much expressed in his service to God. The question was, did his ministry matter? Did his service count for naught because he was gay, or did his service counted for something irrespective of whether he was gay or straight? Remember, if our spirituality flows from the awareness of God’s presence within us, and from an awareness which manifest itself in an outward expression of that which burns within us, then the question is, what was it that was burning within Bruce, and was it a valid expression of the awareness of God? Was he immune from being daily rekindled in spirit because he was gay? If that wasn’t the case, then did God turn his face away from whatever Bruce had to offer in His service because he was gay?
These are difficult questions, and yet easy ones. Difficult because we are prone to presume that God accepts our offering - whatever they may be, and however big or small they may be - based on how we see ourselves in the broader context of God’s plan, or how we tell our narrative. They are also easy questions because we are prone to believe that God doesn’t turn His face away from us, and for His mercies’ sake, He embraces us just the way we are... as His creatures. Listen to the psalmist extol the wonder of you: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
As one who grew up in a culture that frowned upon the likes of Bruce and, not only that, but as one who actually believed that God didn’t accept the likes of Bruce, I was convinced that I, as a priest, should be able to tell Bruce’s narrative in a way that serves my interpretation of the breadth and depth of God’s creation. There was a part of me which felt terribly inadequate in expressing the nature of God. I didn’t know that God turned His eyes towards the like of Bruce. And if God embraced people like Bruce, what I came to realize was that God was much bigger and broader than I do credit Him. God. The I Am who is beyond our comprehension.
I never shared my struggle with Bruce, nor did he ever know that I was breaking under the yoke of my cultural and theological disposition. I am sure he would have helped me in trying to understand if I had reached out to him. But this was a process that I had to pursue with the deep and abiding conviction that I couldn’t hate Bruce for who he is - for hatred has never proven sufficient. However, I can celebrate him for making me a better Christian. With the quiet confidence in who he was and what he did, he opened my eyes to what it means to serve with all that you have, and all that you are. I know I cannot thank him enough for making me a better priest and pastor.
Over the past several weeks we have read of horrific attacks on the LGBTQ community. The interesting bit is that you and I may not cast a stone at one, hit another, or even cuss at one, but we can express sentiments which may be as close in similarity as someone hitting, cussing, or killing a member of the LGBTQ family. Always remember, history has an interesting way of alerting us to the brutal reality that hatred has never been sufficient in dealing with any issue.
A few months ago, I went out to buy a pair of socks - and I like colorful socks. As I searched, I chanced upon a pair of pride socks. I picked it up and purchased it with the hope that I can wear it on Pride Sunday.
And so on Trinity Sunday - which is also Father’s Day, as well as Pride Sunday - I will wear my pride socks in gratitude to Bruce, the verger who taught me to be a better Christian by opening my eyes to the complexity of God’s creation, and with the humility to accept that God is too big for me - or anyone, for that matter - to claim to fully know and understand Him.
I know my Bruce, and I am thankful for him.
Who is your Bruce?