Crossing My Bridge--And Finding Affirmation on the Other Side
Nancy Batchelor (right) and her partner Susan
by Nancy Batchelor
Nancy Batchelor made these remarks during the devotional session of the Affirmation Conference "Bridging the Journey" in Portland, Oregon, on October 22, 2006.
I'd like to speak a few moments about a very significant bridge in my journey. It took me a very long time to find the bridge, and it took a very long time to decide I wanted to start crossing the bridge.
To set the scene for you, I had left the church for a few years after attending Ricks College. My girlfriend at the time was tracted by the missionaries and had the missionary discussions. We mutually decided to "change our ways," and she was baptized by my father. She subsequently married and moved out of the ward. I was happy at church for several years and felt resolute in my testimony of the gospel, but through a series of events and a move to a new stake, I began living my double life again.
Fast forward to the mid-80s, and Susan and I had been together for a few years. We had an active social life, partying with friends on weekends, and on most Sunday mornings I pulled it together to go to sacrament meeting in a singles ward. I felt reasonably successful at keeping my two lives separate but, of course, the guilt demons periodically came.
One day while reading the local gay newspaper, Susan spotted a small personal ad for a gay Mormon organization named Affirmation, with a California post office box address. She encouraged me to make contact. I couldn't believe such an organization existed and I was very leery of responding, fearful that somehow my name would get back to the church. Susan continued to gently prod me and I finally sent a letter, with a phony name, asking for information. I received some printed materials and promptly filed them away.
Fast forward a few years to the mid 1990s. We were still pretty much partying on the weekends and I was by then going to a family ward that I thoroughly enjoyed. One Saturday night we were at a party where I was introduced to a temple-married LDS woman who had just moved out from her husband and young children to come to Portland to start a new life. The short version of this story is that she became aware of Affirmation, found out there was a small local chapter, and coerced me into going to a potluck event. I was beginning my journey across the bridge.
I didn't know quite what to expect. I was thirsty to find other gay Mormons, but I was also very curious to discover if the people in this group had been well grounded in the church and had ever had a solid testimony. As luck would have it, at that first or second get-together I went to, Gary & Millie Watts were there with their daughter who was graduating from a local college that weekend. That was a huge validation for me. As I learned more of other people's stories, I felt my guard come down and my heart open up. This was probably the beginning of the transition from the voices in my head telling me that I was not worthy of Heavenly Father's love, to being shown just the opposite.
Our first Affirmation Conference was in 1998 when it was held in Portland. I was nervous because it was being held here, within my ward boundaries. I had grown up in this area and my aging parents still lived in this stake. My parents never showed me anything but love, but I did not want to cause them any pain or awkwardness in their church associations by being found out.
Another few steps onto the bridge. That conference began to change me in ways I could not foresee. I saw the love and camaraderie, the fun, the irreverence, but I also saw the pain, the challenges, and in many cases, I saw the peace I desired. Most importantly I heard many stories of otherwise faithful latter day saints who had had testimonies, who had served missions, and who had married in the temple and had families. I went home excited, strengthened, less afraid, less alone. I began receiving the Family Fellowship and Affinity newsletters — more insight and strength from the sharing of personal stories.
Susan and I have managed to make almost all of the conferences since that time. There hasn't been one where I was not touched and taught in some way, or where I was not challenged in my thinking. The conferences, the friendships, the terrific websites of both Affirmation and Family Fellowship loaded with so many resources, James Kent's Ohana News, and various e-mail lists have all given me hope, comfort, assurance and strength.
I know many of you have left the church, both physically and theologically. Quite honestly, that was something I thought would never happen to me. Even though it was difficult living this double life that the church condemned, I knew Heavenly Father knew the intent of my heart and I believed that in the end, that was how I would be judged.
I enjoyed going to church and feeling the Spirit while I was there. But there came a time when my folks had both passed on and, though I loved my ward, and I loved the church, I could no longer be dishonest about who I was.
I had a wonderful bishop who called me in to accept a new position. I came out to him, fully expecting I would be excommunicated. In my heart, I felt emotionally ready for that occurrence. Instead, he wanted to pray about it and then decided excommunication was not the path to take. He told no one and for the next two years I continued as a visiting teacher, but that was about it. In retrospect, I know I needed that time to grow and to explore more fully my deepest beliefs.
About the time I started wondering how long I could continue being almost a non-participating member of the ward, a new bishop was called and, again, I came out to him. From that moment on I had no illusions as to the outcome and, as expected, I was excommunicated earlier this year. I attended the bishop's council, and subsequently sent a letter to the stake presidency, former bishops, high councilors, and others who knew me to some degree, telling my story, wanting to put a face on this issue, perhaps challenge their thinking, and perhaps soften some hearts. With it I included a copy of a talk Gary Watts had given in 1997 about sanctioning and affirming same-sex relationships.
Because of the outpouring of tears, heartfelt written and phoned responses I have had from church members, I have glimmers of hope for future movement by the church. It has been a very bittersweet experience, but one that I am at peace with.
I want to thank you all for being here today. I want to thank all of those who have come and gone in Affirmation and have added so much to the tapestry of my life. Your lives have comforted me, strengthened me, and given me the courage to live my life openly and in peace.