Ministry Moment: Miriam Torres-Souffront

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Miriam Torres-SouffrontMiriam Torres-Souffront

Last Sunday, Miriam Torres-Souffront began her Ministry Moment by revealing that her first reaction when asked to speak was,“Woe is me!” She rallied and her recount of her faith journey to Trinity is inspirational. You can listen to Miriam tell it in her own voice and/or read the transcription of her remarks below.

Listen and read along.

 

Good morning, folks.

The word of God says, be anxious for nothing and pray about everything, so I’m about to pray and hopefully you join me.

Father God, please give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart to receive whatever the Spirit wishes to say through me at this moment. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me as you open my mouth so that I can proclaim your praises. To you be glory, honor, and power. Amen.

I am a reluctant presenter right now. It was September 18th when Bill Fuller called me and left a voicemail.  When I heard the message, I didn’t understand what he was saying other than I need you to please consider standing in front of the congregation and saying something. I don’t know what he wanted me say but my mind went to “woe is me!”

My worst fears were being materialized in front of my ears, and eyes, because a month earlier I had listened to a message out of this pulpit, preached by Sarah, that went something like: if you want to know the will of God, you may want to try saying to God that I will do your will if you just show me.

I was recognizing that this call from Bill was like God was asking me to do something and it was not something that I really wanted to do. So here I’m having this conversation with God. I don’t want to do this. I’m trying to see how can I turn down Bill politely and gently. There were three more calls from Bill. I’m sick, I’m tired, I’m spent. I don’t want to do this.

I even took a trip out of town. I finally come back and say I have to give Bill a call on Monday. This is Saturday when I’m making this choice and by Sunday, would you believe that Mr. Bill Fuller appears at my doorstep at 9 p.m. very concerned thinking that something may have happened to my family and he wanted to make sure we were safe.

That, of course, led to a conversation as to what is your answer to the question that I have been asking of you. I took one more chance and disqualified myself. I told Bill a sort of story, which is true, as to why I should not be standing in front of you. He listened and at the end he said, “I understand, but [it is] not disqualifying.” I heard that as the death knell to my reluctance. I recognized that God wanted me to be here, and for some reason you need to come along with me on this trip.

My second reaction was, really Lord? Really? What can I possible tell these “Episkopols”? I turned to the Holy Spirit and said, “Please show me.” And the Spirit lead me to a reading in the Book of Mark, the fifth chapter, that reads like this … Go home to your friends, tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.

He said, Go home to your friends, tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.

Go home to your friends, tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.

I was surprised by that message because that sounds to me like evangelism. I know how afraid you are of that word. I don’t know how to measure or quantify how much God has done for me. I know it’s a lot. I’m going to tell you my story and it is a story of being lost, being found, and being restored.

It is a story that God, I believe, wants me to share with you so you can see like a mirror I’m holding up to you that you are already evangelizing in all the ways that you go out into the world, and bring people into this space, and that sometimes those efforts result in a positive impact in people’s lives.

I also believe that the Lord wants me to highlight to you that they’re believers who no longer feel a part of the body because they experienced a crisis of faith that separated them from the Body of Christ at some point in their lives. That’s what happened to me. These are the lost sheep, and Jesus said, Go first to the lost sheep of Israel. Go first to the sheep.

Without them, I’d like you to consider that the body will never be complete because they [lost sheep] are body parts that are out there that need to be restored into the body. I was one of those body parts.

For 11 years I was missing in action from the feast that we call the Eucharist. It was not intentional or because I don’t want to be in church. It wasn’t because I hate church or that I’m not spiritual enough. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the time or my schedule was complicated, or I had some kind of health condition that prevented me from being here.

I love church. I have been in love with Jesus Christ since I was very young. I don’t know when I have not been in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. What happened was [that] in 2004, I was part of a community of faith that suddenly began delivering a message that went something like: do not come and follow Jesus, but go away. Go away. They were issuing a rallying cry to believers to oppose civil rights to the communities I belong to.

I belong to the LGBTQ community. Lesbian, gays, queer, transgender, bi-sexual community. American citizens. I heard my [then-faith] community using words and wielding Scripture as an instrument of division, as a weapon that was creating enmity. I saw my body being turned against my body.

I was bewildered by that. I was so bewildered, but more than that I was hurt. I was wounded. It was a wound that basically severed me from the body of Christ and I made a choice. I chose at that point that I could not live a life that was being lived in compartments, that by the grace of God I am who I am.

That I am as much of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as I am an American citizen born in Puerto Rico who speaks two languages, as I am a woman in love with a woman. These were not separate identities or choices that I was making. That I was a member of the Body of Christ that would intentionally embody the mercy and the compassion of the Lord, and I was not finding myself among those people.

I had no animosity towards [any of those] faiths. I just needed to step away from them. That year, I made three decisions. I needed to get off that train and I needed to redirect my financial commitment and support away from those communities. No less than 10% of my gross income [would go] to causes of justice, particularly causes of justice influencing and impacting the LGBTQ community.

I was going to find a way to marry the woman I was in love with. When people were asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said, “I am detoxifying from religion.” Those people were offended by that. That was not my intention. I was detoxifying from a form of religion that separated members from the body.

A funny thing about how detoxification works is that the more you do it the longer you know that you don’t want to return to feeling unwell. I also discovered that while I was in this process — away from the church — that I was out in the wilderness and I was lost there. I had lost my connection to the body.

Stepping out of the body of Jesus Christ in many ways meant that I was stepping into a place that I didn’t know anything about. Something also happened in the wilderness for me. There were a number of voices that were finally dying. Especially those voices that kept telling me that we were grasshoppers in a land of giants.

I closed the Bibles and put them away. I told God, “You have to fix this. I am not going to church. Church will have to come for me.” And with this, I became separated from the body, and by that action I received a new identity. I was a lost sheep.

It is now the summer of 2013 and Ivelisse and I are in Cleveland. We have been here since 2011 because a job brought me to Cleveland. It’s now 18 months into our residing here and our paths crossed your paths. Our paths crossed very briefly at the 25th Annual Cleveland Pride Festival.

We were walking about. I was noticing all the churches that were there. I was taking down names. I don’t know why. You [Trinity] had a booth and we stopped by that booth.  An intersection occurred. A space opened where I could finally ask you a question, and that question was, “Why should I come to Trinity?”

I got this answer, “Come because God loves you, no exceptions, and we have the coolest preachers in town.” I laughed at that invitation. I made a note of it, put it on my list, and walked away. That was a very brief encounter but it was brief enough, and substantive enough, to register something.

It is now 16 months later, December 2014, six months before the Supreme Court is about to issue a decision regarding whether a gay couple can marry in this nation. I turned Ivelisse and I say, “Let’s do it now because if the nation decides to go against us, I want to be on the side that is going to be discriminated against.”

It’s not that I had not asked this question before, it’s just that she said “Yes.” It was that yes that said we’re doing it. Doing it meant that we took a trip to Buffalo, New York because our son was in town and he was going to be a witness.

By the time we get to Buffalo folks, it is 30 years into a long-term relationship. This was not a romantic thing. This isn’t out of the moment,  “Let’s go to Vegas!” No, this is something that had been in the works for 30 years, so to me we had nothing to prove at that time. This was about saying yes, getting a piece of paper and here’s some benefits in case something happens, and coming back home. That’s it.

To me, there was almost like a business transaction that we were going to be conducting. The building is very unremarkable. It’s a government building. As the clerk turned to me and asked me to begin saying my vows, I kid you not, the temperature in that room changed. We felt embraced by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by a great cloud of witnesses.

We were saying words out loud for the first time that we knew the meaning of because we had been living them for 30 years. It was a holy moment, like this moment. Marriage was the door that got us out of the church and marriage was the door that was going to get us back into church.

We returned to Cleveland. It’s December 28th. We return on that day and I pull out the list of churches. Trinity happened to be the church that was at the number one spot. We come to Trinity on the last Sunday of that year for the 11:15 a.m. service. What we saw in here was a service that was partially populated, a preacher — a female who looked very tired to me — and who also preached a very unremarkable sermon that day.

That preacher was Tracey Lind. There was nothing about that sermon that would’ve pulled me in. But what happened next was the invitation that got me in  and it was this. As they were getting ready to prepare for Eucharist, they basically turned to the audience and said, “Know this, our table is open, all are welcome.”

That was very different. I heard something very different for the first time. In my professional life, I had never received those kinds of invitations. I can never assume because there’s a table that I am going to be extended an invitation to sit at the table. I have to sit at the table because otherwise, invitations are not going to come.

This was the second time that this community of faith had extended an invitation and it made a difference to me. It made a difference because of what happened next. As I’m thinking about what’s happening here with that invitation, I hear this voice from within, as clearly as I’m standing in front of you and speaking with you. I hear this, “Your wandering days are over.” And I said, “Okay.”

I didn’t know what that meant. I still don’t know what that means other than I knew it had something to do with this body, and that I needed to come here and find out what that meant. I’m saying this, “I love the body of Christ. I love how it’s a container for this continual filling of the Holy Spirit, and I treasure the body of Christ.”

I’m trying to bring attention to you that there’re body parts out there in the world that need to come into this building so that we can be whole, and you are already doing that in many ways. Marriage brought us out and marriage brought us in. In the 32nd chapter of Matthew, we are told that there’s still a wedding to celebrate.

In that chapter it says, Go into the streets and invite everyone you meet. Rich and poor. Good and bad. High and low. Sick and well. Earlier, Jesus had said go and find the lost sheep. That chapter also says don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers and don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost confused people right now here in the neighborhood and tell them that the kingdom is here.

If there’s one thing I’ve heard out of this community it’s this: the kingdom is here, and it has made a difference in my life. When you set up a booth at a Pride festival, when you carry out events in this community, and you bring people into this space, there’s an intersection where people are coming willingly to hear and to receive invitations.

I want you to see those invitations, those opportunities, as an invitation where people want to be restored into our body. I was a lost sheep and there are many others like me out there. But because you once met me at an intersection, I who was once lost, I was found.

I will find myself in this body. To me, that’s grace and it is amazing, and I thank you for that.

 

 

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