So, here I am, Tampa, 2012, as the General Conference of the United Methodist Church gears up yet again gearing up to debate my life and "decide" if who I am is compatible with Christianity.
It started 47 years ago in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where I was born and raised in an evangelical family. I could not wait for 6 p.m. on Sundays when we would go to my favorite service, Holy Communion and sing our hearts out.
Everything was picture perfect. I was expected to follow in my father's steps. Prominent Biblical scholar, amazing preacher, distinguished diplomat, educator and politician. My first sermons were delivered with much trembling and received with surprising gratitude and affirmation. I was encouraged in this path and later became a deacon in my congregation.
In the middle of it all, I had my first crush. Pretty natural for a 14 yr old except it was on a classmate... in an all-boys school.
What followed was a private hell of desperate prayers and clever self-imposed mini-programs designed to change myself into who I thought God wanted me to be. There was a program for learning how to "walk like a man", another program to deepen my voice, a program to learn what to do on a date with women (you know, first base, second base, etc.).
Yet, no matter how much I prayed and "practiced," things remained the same. One day, at the end of my rope, asking God to change me, I heard an inner voice that said "OK, but if I take that part out there are other parts that will also need to go." That's when I saw, how everything that I am is linked together, my creativity, my spirituality, my sense of wonder, my kindness. My "gayness" was not an appendage that could be severed; it was integral to my being. In that moment, I experienced the love of God, in a fresh new way. Before then, I knew that God loved people, but at that moment, I knew that God loved me.
On that day I was born again.
Moving to New York brought about a return to the Methodist roots of my grandfather. The "gay" thing was a still a secret but no longer the heavy burden it was in my teen years. Slowly, I came out -- first to close, supportive friends, then to family and eventually to the church.
In the year 2000, I experienced my first General Conference. For some it was a disaster for gay rights, for me it was an exhilarating ride. Leading people in song as we marched on the streets Cleveland, seeing bishops go to jail because of their commitment to gay rights, their commitment to me, was something I never dreamed possible.
The 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh was a mixed bag, I was a part of the music and worship team which severely limited my witness.
Fort Worth in 2008 was great. I was elected a delegate from New York and was able to speak from the floor of General Conference on behalf of the ordination of gay and lesbians persons (check me out on Youtube). We were so close... the committee brought a recommendation to eliminate discriminatory language but the full house voted it down by a slim margin.
And now, here I am, in Tampa 2012, surrounded by almost a thousand delegates from 125 countries, once again elected to be a delegate from the New York area. We are marking 40 years of exclusion of gay people and arguing about why we are losing members. An hour ago we had "holy conversations" in small groups meant to open dialogue among delegates on this matter. A sister delegate from Sierra Leone said, "I just don't know how to even start speaking about this 'thing.'"
I get it. She has not had the opportunity to see openly gay people in stable relationships, raising children, worshipping together. She does not know parents who are proud of their gay children. The concept of a pastor who is gay is unthinkable to her.
So, what do I hope for in Tampa? It sounds petty and selfish, but primarily I hope to survive it. I hope to be given the inner strength to stay in relationship with people who see no problem in comparing who I am to a thief or a murderer.
But I hope for more. I hope for a miracle of grace, for a moment when God does something we thought impossible.
My mentor, Rev. Pedro Pirón was the last person I came out to. He was just too important to me to risk. I waited until he was retired in Florida and very ill. In his car after hearing me speak the difficult words "I am gay."
He looked at me long and said, "Yoryi, God has called you to be a prophet."
Now I see that it was Rev. Pirón who prophesied that day -- that no one could separate me from the love of God and that be being myself, I can share that love of God with a hurting world.
The church is catching with the Holy Spirit who moves among us and brings life to us all. I pray that no child will ever again wonder if God Loves them because of who they love or how they express their gender. It is time to live into love.
Jorge Lockward and Rev. Sheila Beckford lead worship at New Day United Methodist Church in the Bronx
Protesters march around the outside of the Cleveland Convention center while singing hymns following a vote by the United Methodist Church's 2000 General Conference to maintain the denomination's anti-homosexual policies.