Lesbian Minister Resigns Homelessness Council Youth

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 15 Nov 1998 13:20:20 -0400


http://www.planetout.com:80/pno/news/article.html?1998/11/11/4

MINISTER LEAVES YOUTH PROGRAM

           NewsPlanet Staff
           Wednesday, November 11, 1998 / 05:34 PM

     SUMMARY: A Cape Cod ecumenical
     council's reaction to their lesbian youth
     minister's coming out didn't inspire her
     with a feeling of security, so she's outta
     there.

     Once you come out to your bosses, do you then have
     to come out to your bosses' bosses? United Church of
     Christ minister Rachel Keefe believes not, and as a
     result has resigned her position running a pioneering
     youth ministry in Harwich, Massachusetts on Cape
     Cod. Now that her lesbian orientation is known, she
     and her partner feel it is unsafe to live there, so Keefe
     will be leaving town on November 15.

     The Harwich Ecumenical Council on Homelessness
     (HECH) had a great vision for a ministry to support the
     rapidly growing number of impoverished children
     among local residents, responding to a need identified
     by local school and police officials. HECH set up a
     committee to operate the Harwich Youth Ministry
     (HYM), the first community ministry in the area and
     perhaps in the state. Keefe began work in August
     1997, and a stream of testimonials show that she was
     doing an outstanding job. But in December 1997,
     Keefe came to grips with her lesbian orientation, and in
     September 1998, she came out to the HYM committee.
     In the process of absorbing the information, it was
     suggested by several committee members at the
     October meeting that she should also come out to the
     Boards of the Council's member churches, the
     superintendent of schools, and the local police chief.
     Keefe responded by tendering her resignation in the
     course of that meeting, and the HYM committee voted
     6 - 2 to accept it.

     Holy Trinity Catholic Church was alone in saying it
     would withdraw its support from the project if Keefe
     continued, as its pastor Jerry Shovelton said it is
     ideologically opposed to homosexuality, but HYM
     committee moderator and Christ Church pastor Thomas
     Shepard said that had nothing to do with the request for
     Keefe to come out. He himself had hoped that she
     could prevent the matter from becoming the subject of
     inaccurate rumors, and said that he would support her
     from the pulpit. "I did not see her homosexuality as
     being an impediment to her ministry," he said. But he
     does believe that homosexuality is a hot button issue
     like no other, and that since Keefe's coming out would
     inevitably have repercussions, the churches supporting
     the project should be aware of it. He remarked later that
     it was unrealistic of Keefe to have expected the
     committee to keep her orientation secret, saying, "What
     if Barney Frank came out to some of his constituents
     and not all -- is that realistic?"

     Her clients protested the prospect of losing her,
     including obtaining more than 350 signatures on a
     petition and holding a candlelight vigil on November 8.
     Also in protest, at least one clergymember responded
     with a letter to a local newspaper, which itself
     editorialized in support of Keefe, and First Parish
     Brewster, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation,
     decided to withhold its financial support from the
     HECH. On November 9, the HYM committee
     reconsidered, and rejected her resignation 8 - 0 with
     two abstentions. But Keefe said that was "too little, too
     late."

     HECH is even proposing that the town of Harwich
     should take over the project, and invited Keefe to stay
     on until a May town meeting could establish the
     position as a town job effective July 1. Yet to Keefe's
     mind that would only trade the problem of the various
     churches' ideological differences for the problem of
     being unable to work on the spiritual vacuum she finds
     among the town's disenfranchised youth. The spiritual
     element, to her, was one of the unique aspects of the
     project. For superintendent of schools Joseph Gilbert,
     any additional counseling support for youth is a plus,
     "even if it was a social worker" rather than a minister.

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