GIFT is dedicated to helping ratify LGBT+ people of faith and help their communities affirm them. This may sound like a simple idea, but doing this can take so many different forms. We do a variety of different things that are focused on the advocacy involved in our mission. Our “Gay Christian? Yes!” campaign back in 2012, providing information to churches, and our partnerships with local GSAs are just a few ways we have supported the community.
But another part of that advocacy work is providing care. Rev. Jim Lucas has walked with countless individuals on their journeys of self-acceptance. I know, because he did it for me. Now I am excited to be with GIFT as the Care Intern this summer. I have been both helping with programs we already had in place (like our adult support group) and I have been working to build new programs that help our outreach and ministry to be able to connect to the social media world.
As I’ve been working on these programs, it has pushed me to think about what it means to care for others. Care means walking with people through different parts of their life journeys. It could be coming out or processing a loved one coming out, or it could be dealing with the internalized hate we may be carrying. In our fight for justice and equality for LGBT+ individuals, we must remember to be taking care of each other and ourselves.
I am inspired by this work because of the care I received back when I was first coming out, from Jim and from GIFT Grand Rapids as an organization. They were there to care for me and journey with me as I sought to connect my identity as a transgender woman with my faith. GIFT was a soothing presence in my life during a challenging time. Care can take so many forms, but one of those forms is being able to journey with people through their challenges. This is a form of care especially needed for LGBT+ individuals.
That is why we have launched our online Spiritual Care program, which provides a place that people can come to when they have worries to talk about. That is now growing more with the introduction of an online Support Group. We are making sure that if people need support and care, we can be there with them.
To me, providing care and support to individuals on their journey is intertwined with the other advocacy work we do at GIFT Grand Rapids. We work on a personal level with LGBT+ people and their allies, while also working to make their faith communities be places where they can find acceptance. We want people to live whole and healthy lives, where their faith does not bring them self-hate but rather self-acceptance and GIFT is here to be on that journey with those who need it!
Ember Kelley is the Pastoral Intern for GIFT Grand Rapids this summer. Ember is also a past board member and has been very influential in GIFT's history.