“Just wait until you wear the habit in public,” the more experienced brothers told me and the other postulant in the friary over and over as our time for novicing drew nearer. “You won’t believe the reasons people approach you.” Little did any of us think this would happen, in a marvelous way, less than two hours after Gregory and I were clothed as novices during SSF’s recent century celebration in New York City.
After Ilia Delio’s fascinating talk on convergences between religion and science, a number of us left St Luke in the Fields in search of cool drinks or coffee. On his way back to the church, Gregory briefly encountered two women who asked about his (brand new) habit. A few minutes later, Desmond and I were returning as well when we were approached by the same women just outside the church gate. Leanne, a young woman from northern England, and her Welsh friend Sharon were struck by the sight of the Pride Flag flying at the top of the pole on church grounds. “So what’s that about then?” Leanne asked, her Darbyshire accent difficult to understand at first. “You’re a church here and got that flag, do ya?”
We explained that, yes, indeed, St Luke proudly welcomes and supports LGBTQ+ individuals and families, just as The Episcopal Church as a whole and SSF do. Sharon looked on sympathetically as Leanne explained that she is a lesbian (she was in New York on holiday after her marriage collapsed recently) and she was amazed that there are Christians who proclaim a God who loves her exactly as she is, one Who always has and Who always will. “I mean, yeah, Sharon isn’t gay and I’m gay, and it’s us, right, friends. You know, the same,” Leanne declared at one point, unknowingly but powerfully echoing Presiding Bishop Michael Bishop’s joyous homily from earlier in the day.
The conversation ping-ponged all over the place after that, from questions about whether we’re priests to exclamations of surprise that Gregory and I had been clothed just hours earlier. Things wound down, we exchanged embraces, took pictures, and went our separate ways, but still joined together in unity given us by Christ (Colossians 1:17).
As I reflect on this encounter, I feel deep gratitude to Lenna and Sharon. For their willingness to approach Gregory and then to inquire of Desmond and me. For their honesty in telling their stories and their desire to hear ours. I am grateful for Gregory’s openness and kindness to these women. And I am grateful for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in leading me into this life, one in which I now endeavor to bear witness to the love of Christ and the example of St Francis through, among other things, what I wear.
Of course, it won’t always be easy to deal with happens when people approach us because of the brown habit. But the grace that gifted us with Leanne and Sharon, if we move in loving trust, will enable us to bear all things and all people with humor, grace, and compassion.
Brother Columba can be reached at Columba.firstname.lastname@example.org