Video: Safe, Sacred, Free: Queer Movements and Religious Spaces

February 15, 2022
Heather White
2021-22 WSRP Research Associate Heather White

Heather R. White, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender and Queer Studies and 2021-22 Women's Studies in Religion Program Research Associate, delivered the lecture, "Safe, Sacred, Free: Queer Movements and Religious Spaces."


ANN BRAUDE: Good afternoon. And welcome to this afternoon's lecture by Heather White-- Safe, Sacred, and Free-- Queer Movements and Religious Spaces. I'm Ann Braude. I'm the Director of the Women's Studies and Religion Program here at Harvard Divinity School.

And today's lecture is the last in this year's-- I'm sorry. It is the penultimate lecture. And greetings to all of you. It's wonderful to see you today for this lecture by Heather White-- Safe Sacred and Free-- Queer Movements and Religious Spaces.

We are gathering on Zoom today, which allows me the special pleasure of welcoming those of you from far and wide who I see on the Zoom screen. It's really great to have you here to participate in today's events. Heather comes to us as a visiting research associate in the Women's Studies and Religion Program from the University of Puget Sound, where she is on the faculty in the departments of religious studies, as well as gender and queer studies.

We all know Heather for her well-known publications. Her two books are Reforming Sodom-- Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, as well as a co-edited volume with Bethany Moreton and Gillian Frank, Devotions and Desires-- Histories of Sexuality and Religion in the 20th Century United States. The presentation today is on the new project that she is conducting research on this year. And I will let her tell you about it. Heather.

HEATHER WHITE: Hello. Good morning. Thank you, Ann, for that introduction. And also, while I'm here-- and I see Tracy has posted a Zotts lecture-- I'm going to announce it. This is an honor.

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you so much, Heather.

HEATHER WHITE: So in addition to not listening for me, next time, you should turn in to the 7 Habits of Effective Muslims-- Islamic Self-Help and Gender Disciplining in Contemporary Singapore. And that will be Tuesday, April 12. So there will also be an announcement sent out for that.

So thank you. Welcome. I'm so honored to have the opportunity to give this lecture. And I can really hardly put into words how much this year as a research associate and visiting faculty in the Women's Studies and Religion Program has enabled and facilitated my project.

A particular thanks to the members of my cohort for their camaraderie, their support, and their feedback. To, Ann, thank you so much for your ongoing support and to Tracy as well who runs this place. And I also want to thank the students in the class that I taught last semester with the same title for being really brilliant and open-hearted co-learners as we work through a very particular set of readings about space and place.

So welcome everyone watching and listening in the Zoom. I mean, the weird thing about Zoom is I am looking at you through my computer screen. You are in my office effectively. And I know that all of you are probably somewhat accustomed to the way that Zoom has brought in a new kind of collective space, one that we're gathered in virtually and yet each watching from different sites.

So we can, of course, hide our backgrounds with background photos so as to appear in a different place. But I choose to keep this background in my lecture, which is not a background. This is my actual office because this lecture is in so many ways an invitation to an unfinished and provisional moment in my writing and research, which has been taking place in various places, including right here in this office. And, in fact, there are pages of a chapter draft taped to the wall behind me.

So truly welcome to this unfinished and provisional space in my thinking because I'm talking about space and particularly, buildings and lands and why they matter. I want to begin by acknowledging that the site in which I'm standing on the Harvard campus is on the ancestral lands of the Massachusetts people. English settlers justified the expropriation of native lands by claiming it could be rightfully theirs when they improved it and built a habitation. And I'm talking about walls and buildings. And I'm standing in one of those habitations, and so I wanted to name this space as a settler colonial space.

And also, as another upfront note, I wanted to name or make more clear the way that I'll be referencing queer, sexual, and gender identities. You'll hear me use the word "queer" as I do in the title as an aggregate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and et cetera, identities.

Even as that expanding LGBTQ acronym as an umbrella category is relatively recent and wasn't used during the time period that I'm focusing on in the '60s and '70s. The key terminology shift that was taking place during that moment during the late '69 to early '70s was from "homophile," a term used by organizers beginning in the late '50s, to the newer movement term "gay." And it was really a few years after that in the middle '70s that movement organizes broadly began talking about gay and lesbian and you'll-- and so on and so forth to expand that acronym.

So it was certainly the case that gay men, lesbians, trans identified participants, although with different name terminologies, were participating in the gay movement during that moment. So I will use "gay" in this encompassing sense and specify where warranted the more particular identities of the people that I'm talking about.

So this is a last business announcement. I also won't be paying attention to the chat while I'm speaking. But it's my understanding that you can post while I talk. And you are welcome to post in the chat. And I will address questions at the end of my lecture.

So the title for this lecture-- here's one other unplanned. I'm going to be toggling back and forth between comments and share screen. The title for this lecture, Safe, Sacred, Free-- Queer Movements and Religious Spaces, is also the title for the talk that I gave last semester or for the course I taught last semester. I organized a course to think around my topic.

And my topic, my project focuses on a church in New York City that in the late 1960s and early '70s provided meeting spaces for the gay movement. And especially in that moment, the gay movement in New York City was organizing in the wake of the now iconic Stonewall Riots. So there's more to say about that case, and I will in a moment.

But the course was thinking around it, was thinking about this question of space and particularly, about these three words-- "safe," "sacred," "free." One of the first things we did in that class was to brainstorm synonyms and antonyms for those three words. And I've just posted a word cloud that highlight some of the brainstorm synonyms of antonyms that came up on that first day, so things like stolen, restricted, but also, vulnerable, loved, violent, profane, right? So there's quite-- I'll give you a moment to look through.

It's a crowded word cloud. Just the doubled and multiple meanings of the synonyms and antonyms for safe, sacred, free. And this is also a good addition. So what just appeared there is something we often see in announcements or commercials for things that are said to be free, which is a little asterisk with a tiny print, conditions apply. What these words share is that they are ideals for space. And each of these ideals-- safe sacred, and free-- are often conceptualized in the absolute and at the same time defined and marked out against an opposite.

So in this conceptualization of both absolute and opposite, something like safe space would have this sense of being protected from its opposite from violence. What would make space free or liberating would be the absence of oppression, exploitation, or commodification. What would make a space sacred would be the sense of transcendent difference from the merely ordinary, difference from the profane or even opposition to the profane with the expectation that profane things are merely ordinary things would be a violation in that sacred space.

The historian Christine Hanhardt, who writes about the history of safe space and particularly the history of how LGBT groups have defined and marked out safe space and advocated for safe space, makes a point about safety. So Hanhardt makes a point about safety.

That could be extended to these other terms as well. And it's this, that the quest for safety that is collective rather than individualize requires an analysis of who or what constitutes a threat and why. And those forces are perceived threat or actual threat maintain their might, Hanhardt argues, by being in flux.

So the doubleness or the multiplicity that you see in this word cloud gets at those questions of, how to decide? How to decide what makes a space safe, what makes it sacred, what makes it free? To whom is it safe, sacred, or free? Who or what might be perceived as a threat or violation? And how does that change? How is that in flux? And then amid the doubled and multiple meanings of these ideals, what is happening when a dominant definition emerges, when a singular idea of what exactly is safe, sacred, or free, when that becomes the definition and defines relationships then as singular?

So that's a lot of questions that I have thrown out at you, and I'll come back to them. Well, I'll admit. I don't answer them all. But I'll come back to them at length near the close of this talk because certainly, I have more questions than I'll be able to address in this lecture.

But what I want to do is lay out some beginning connections to these big questions about space, and who defines what it means in these ideal forms to make some connections to those big questions, and the history that I'm investigating of a parish that shared space with a stigmatized gay movement-- so that's one dynamic here-- and then at the same time, what was happening as this gay movement, which was seeking free space or liberating space, decided often temporarily or pragmatically to lease space in a building that was owned by establishment religion. So that's to say that this shared space, this history of shared space, is fraught already with the doubled and multiple meanings.

This photograph-- so I'll tell you more about this particular story-- this photograph is a pretty conventional image of the Church of the Holy Apostles. I'm about to show you some photographs that are rather unconventional images of the church. This is an Episcopal parish located at the northern edge of the neighborhood of Chelsea in New York City and in a city filled with buildings of architectural renown. Holy Apostles is not one of the famous ones, they'll say, but notable enough to be landmarked in 1968 on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was erected between the years of 1946 and 1948 and is said to be an important example of the eclectic style of the architect Minard Lafevre and exhibits a blend of Romanesque Revival with Italianate, Gothic, and Georgian features, the remnant from the early 19th century. So this very early example of the architecture has remained, has persisted, and indeed still persists today amid a neighborhood transformed by mid-20th century urban development projects.

And you can see at the top of the screen arrows that point to the tiny visible edge of the steeple, peeking out from behind a series. There's an entire urban development project. So this is mostly the Penn South co-op. By 1969, when the gay groups began meeting in its space, Holy Apostles was surrounded by the newly constructed Penn South co-op, which was in turn surrounded by a series of low and middle income housing developments. And that steeple is just barely visible as here a photograph of the church in its neighborhood.

Here's another somewhat unconventional photograph of the church because this appears not to be a photograph of the church at all, right? What you're looking at here is a photograph by the photographer Diana Davies, which focuses on a person, Zazu Nova, who was a participant along with Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, who are more well-known members of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR. Nova was also a founding member of Gay Youth, as well as a participant in the Gay Liberation Front.

This photograph was taken at a GLF meeting. And we see Nova, a Black trans person, gazing calmly into the camera, hands resting in her lap from a seated perch on a folding table. Nova is the focus.

But the photograph also incidentally captures in the background the white plaster wall and painted frame of a window with diamond-shaped lead security glass. So I'll say more about that background in a moment. Those are the, right now in this photograph, the only sign of the location of this meeting.

The Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists meetings between the years-- between 1969, the end of 1969, and into 1970s were among a group of gay groups meeting in the site of Holy Apostles. And the GAA and GLF were among at least a dozen different groups that held events at the church. The GLFs general meetings were Sundays at 8:00. The Gay Activists meetings were Thursdays, also at 8:00. Other groups shared space here as well.

The Radical Lesbians and the Daughters of Bilitis, both women's groups, joined forces to organize several all women's dances. New York's oldest homophile group, the Mattachine Society, held occasional lectures at the church. And the West Side Discussion Group, another veteran homophile organization, held weekly public discussions, followed by a social hour with dancing. That was on Wednesday night.

Gay Youth met here as did The Eulenspiegel Society, a sadomasochistic discussion group, which briefly held meetings here. And then four of New York's earliest gay religious groups also met for services at Holy Apostles. They were the Church of the Beloved Disciples, which was an independent Catholic gay-welcoming church, the Metropolitan Community Church of New York City, which was ecumenical Protestant, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which is Jewish, and Holy Apostle's own gay ministry, which merged shortly after its founding with the gay-welcoming Episcopal group Integrity.

For most participants in these meetings, the church's parish hall, which was a building adjoining the sanctuary-- and I'll say that the religious groups, and particularly the Christian religious groups, actually did meet in the sanctuary. But most of these other groups met in the building adjoining the church sanctuary, which they simply called the community center. And its location was specified almost ubiquitously in events calendars and gay newspapers. All right.

I'm going to come back to me for a moment. So these diverse groups' vital need for meeting space reflected the exponential growth taking place in New York's gay organizations following the now iconic Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969, which has been popularly credited as the beginning of LGBT activism. Firsthand accounts of post-Stonewall activism frequently mention, often with a hint of perplexity, that Holy Apostles was a frequent venue for meetings and social events.

But this involvement has not been researched or analyzed by scholars. And that's particularly notable at a moment that has been so well-researched within queer history. So those firsthand historical accounts of the gay movements-- pardon.

So despite the references in firsthand accounts to the space-sharing arrangements with Holy Apostles, most narratives about gay activism and queer activism present this trend as a wholly secular development. And narratives about the 1969 Stonewall Riots really epitomized the secular framing. So scholars have focused mostly instead on anti-queer religious opposition. And as a result of these well-known antagonisms, New York's gay groups are better known for their critiques of religion as the taproot of homosexual oppression than for their space-sharing arrangements with churches.

So like-- I'm going to go back to Nova, which is not a-- my cursor-- that's funny. So like this photograph of Nova, which captures the walls of the church only in the background, the references to the church's role as a meeting place remain embedded in the background of the histories and narratives that focused their attentions on activists and organizers. And there's good reasons for that focus, right?

There's more I want to know, for example, about Nova. And at the same time, I'm interested in what can be found out by focusing on the walls, literally the walls behind her. And I'll say the story that I have about this photo, I think of it as an architectural discovery, although it's more of an architectural realization than a discovery in itself.

That realization was prompted by a conversation about photographs of the movement that were taken by Rich Wandel. So he has taken some other photographs. At the time of this conversation, Wandel was the LGBT Center Archive Director in New York. And he was also the former president of the Gay Activists Alliance and was and is a photographer.

And I was at the LGBT Center Archives looking for research that would help me with this project. And I asked Wandel if he knew about any photographs of Holy Apostles that might be in the LGBT Center's archives. And he paused and laughed for a moment and then showed me one of his photographs, which was similar to this, a picture of people.

In that case, it was gay men, all white, sitting behind a folding table. And behind them was a completely ordinary white wall, right? And I was, of course, confused. I'm like, where's the picture of the church?

And Wandel gestures to the space around those people and tells me, yeah, you're looking at the walls. So that archival realization was, again, that I had already seen these photographs of the church because these are all very well-known photographs. Now they're available digitally and up on the internet.

But I hadn't, of course, thought of them as photographs of the church, right, because they document Holy Apostle's really most mundane architectural feature in looking at walls and windows. And the church as captured in these photographs is both invisible and ubiquitous as the completely ordinary background.

So what is there to see by looking at these walls? Telling a history of space and analyzing the social dynamics of the groups that share that space means paying closer attention to the seemingly ordinary incidental backgrounds of buildings and meeting places. And there are various scholars who study LGBT movements, as well as various scholars who study congregations and, of course, a smaller handful of scholars who study LGBT congregations. And they ask questions similar to the ones that opened my talk. They ask questions about how space shapes social identities.

For example, the historian Finn Enke, who traces the forms of politicized identities that emerged through participation in movement spaces, looks at feminist identities as those identities emerged within the movement spaces of coffee houses, bookstores, and other credit unions in other collective spaces. And Enke argues rather than holding identities responsible for causing division, a spatial analysis instead sees the consolidation of identities as an effect of spatial practices.

So, again, rather than holding identities responsible for causing division, a spatial analysis instead sees the consolidation of identities as an effect of social practices and spatial practices, so looking at space as a method for analyzing the construction of social identities. And I'll say particularly for identities that are set in opposition, this attention to space becomes a really interesting way to think about religion and to think about LGBT identities. So certainly, in this project, one of the social identities at play is Episcopalian and more specifically, the group that identified socially and spiritually with Holy Apostles as a home.

The parish that agreed to open the church doors to gay people were truly worlds away from the elite Anglo-Protestant founders of the congregation in the early 19th century. What you're looking at is a photograph of the parish from 1971 when Bishop Paul Moore visited the church. And one thing you'll notice is the rather remarkable ethnic and racial diversity of the congregation, which remains rare but was also rare in the late '60s and early '70s when my project-- the time of my project focus.

So this parish, because of developments in the decade prior, was one of the few ethnically and racially integrated parishes in New York. And that was in part because of the housing developments I mentioned earlier. It was in part because of the outmigration of white ethnic groups from the same neighborhood in north Chelsea. And it was also in part because of decisions made by at that point largely white leadership of the church.

So the area immediately around the church saw, in the era just after World War II, a marked increase of Black American residents. Some of these were first or second-generation immigrants from the Caribbean. Some were post-World War II migrants from the American South. And I expect that some were probably also longtime residents of New York City.

The church's rector during those years, the Reverend Robert M.C. Griswold, who was white, made a point of developing programming in the church that attracted these Black and Caribbean American neighbors. One of the most important of these programs was a boys choir directed by George Hall, an organist and musician, who was also Black, and breakfast served after the weekly choir rehearsals by Mrs. Louise Little and Mrs. Lily Long, Black women who shaped the world of that congregation from informal roles as mothers of the church, even as it was at that point only men who were formally appointed to the roles of lay and clerical leadership.

It was in 1969 that Holy Apostles had the first woman voted onto the board of the vestry. So that was a decision-making role for the congregation. And at that point, that was relatively early in the history of the Episcopal Church. But the women of the congregation and especially even this informal role of mother of the church was an influential role, although largely an informal one.

In 1968, Father Griswold left the parish. And the church appointed the Reverend Robert Weeks, who was also white, as their new rector. Like his predecessor, Weeks had a vision for ministry to the community. And it was under his direction and with his support and prompting that the church agreed to share space with these different gay groups from the community.

Part of my project follows the discussions and the debates over the different issues that came up before the vestry as the church decision-making board and other committees of the church that made decisions about how to occupy and how to use its buildings. One of those discussions and debates was in 1969 in August when the West Side Discussion Group, again, a veteran homophile organization requested meeting space to hold a homosexual dance as that phrase appears in the vestry minutes.

They wanted to hold a dance that would follow their discussion meetings in the building that adjoined the sanctuary. And this was just a few months after the Stonewall Riots. And, of course, dancing in particular was a fraught activity, one that potentially was a way of expressing a freeing gay space and also one that in most of the available spaces at the time was constantly threatened by police incursion, harassment, and arrest.

There were other issues that came up in 1971. The question was whether the congregation would allow same-sex union ceremonies in the sanctuary or before the altar. Or even more, as a particular incident raised the issue, could a reporter be invited? What would happen if not only members of the Church knew that this same-sex union happened but if the world were to know because it was published in the press?

There were many other issues. But most notably in 1977, the question before the vestry with implications for the congregation was if the church would host the ordination service for two women who were among the first women to be regularly ordained in the Episcopal Church. One of these women was Ellen Barrett, whose prior involvement in gay and lesbian organizing caught the eye of the press and other more conservative Episcopalians prior to the ordination service.

Holy Apostle's vestry voted unanimously in 1977 to be the site for this ordination of someone who was at that point being tagged in the press as an avowed homosexual, right? But Holy Apostles vestry voted again to say yes. And this, as well as those other questions, all involved layered, layered, layered questions about, what was sacred space? What was allowed to happen in that space? And how would that sacredness be defined in relationship to whom was in that space?

So it's I think relatively easy to imagine how a congregation might discuss and debate questions about what gay groups could do, how they could occupy their space. But there was also a similar set of equally fraught conversations taking place among the gay organizations who are meeting in that space. And that equally fraught set of questions pertain to what it meant to have free or liberating space. Various participants in these groups, who many of which were multiracial but predominantly white, the leadership tended to be predominantly white and often tended to be gay men. So all of these groups in different ways were asking question about what was free or liberating space.

And in the midst of the options, all of them, really, literally, all of them were seeking a space of our own, where they could have control over their space in order to express themselves and be free as gay people. And it was not church space that they were seeking out as that ideal space. What they wanted was a space of our own. But what they often had available and accessible and affordable to them was this space, a space in a church.

So as they were raising funds, in the hope to realize this space that would be free, they met at Holy Apostles, not free space but in a sense, affordable and free enough space. So there are many, many, many, many more stories to tell. But I do want to return to these questions about how to define and how to think about the ideals for space.

I'm paying attention to how collective or community groups are navigating idealized meanings for space. So I'm paying attention to how they're navigating these ideal meanings. But at the same time, I'm interested in flux and provisional meanings, in flux and provisional meanings, free enough space, safe enough space, sacred enough space, right?

So in these in flux meanings, what's happening as members of different groups have different ideas about what feels like free, what feels like sacred but perhaps lack the means to fully realize their spatial ideals and thus have to sort of accommodate to partial realizations of their ideals. In thinking about partial or incomplete ideals for space, I would turn to David Seitz's recent study of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, where I particularly like Seitz's analysis of the good enough object. Seitz uses this phrase to analyze the collective work to create a space of belonging within the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.

And he positions, situates the church and the intimacies it fosters as a space of vexed attachment, where people work through messy alliances and contradictory aspects of the church's history norms and ministry in order to sustain a relationship to an impure but good enough church. So, again, that good enough church is an ideal that's being worked out through messy alliances and contradictory aspects of that history, its norms, and its ministry.

Seitz's attention to the good enough objects helps to capture some of the messy contradictions of Holy Apostle's space-sharing arrangements with Stonewall-era LGBT groups. Most of the parties to these space-sharing arrangements were seeking after transcendent ideals for that space but with all kinds of reasons. So for all kinds of reasons, had to navigate, negotiate, discuss, disagree, and sometimes settle for practical and utilitarian reasons for the safe enough, sacred enough, or free enough space.

And in the conceptualization of these ideals as somehow totalizing and necessarily defined against their opposite, right? It might seem that a compromised realization of free space or sacred space would somehow be a diminishment of these spatial ideals. And I don't dismiss that because the compromise or undermining of ideals is important to look for.

And many of the scholars I just cited-- and I'll look particularly to Christine Hanhardt-- many of them highlight the forms of marginalization and exclusion that take place within group efforts to secure an idealized space. And Hanhardt particularly looks at the forms of marginalization and exclusion taking place as LGBT community groups work to secure safety. And Finn Enke, who I mentioned earlier, also looks at marginalization and inclusion as feminist community groups work to secure a safe space.

So there are certainly issues of compromise or diminishment. But at the same time, I'm really interested in what else takes place amid the messy mutual habitation. What else happens in those good enough spaces, which might include some questions that help illuminate why and how LGBT identities and religious identities are so frequently perceived as fundamentally opposed? How has that dominant definition of what it means for LGBT people to be free and that dominant definition for religion to be sacred emerged in a way that makes these things fundamentally opposite?

So I think some of those answers and some good stuff to think through those oppositions will be taking place in this study of how various groups inhabit it together this messy good enough space. And part of that, I think, is how various groups aspirations became fully sharpened and heightened. This was particularly true of some of those gay groups, that the aspirations for a better space were sharpened and heightened as they were defined against the good enough space of the church.

But that also includes how spatial ideals for the congregation in particular became transformed altogether by the experience of living within heterogeneous perspectives of what it meant to be sacred. So that good enough sacred in some ways also led to new conceptualization of the sacred altogether.

So there are certainly more answers to this question. And more ways of thinking about the meanings of safe, sacred, and free. And there are many, many, many, many more stories of what happened within this church as it hosted the gay movement during this time period and later. This did not end in 1977. So I look forward to your questions and your comments with the end of this lecture. Thank you so much for listening.

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you so much, Heather. That was really so eye-opening. And it was also great being on Zoom to have the chance to see your creative use of visual sources and this idea of the good enough space, which is really making me think about that in some way that's what a congregation is. It's where the human-- anybody who's ever been in a congregation knows, well, yeah, it might be a place where you can experience the sacred. But then there's all those people there compromising that experience.

I'm sure there will be many questions. I'm looking for them in the chat. While people think about the questions they want to ask, can you please do put your questions into the chat? And I will read them to Heather. I'm not going to expect her to monitor the chat on her own.

While you're thinking about them, I would love to take the chair's prerogative. And there are so many questions I'm dying to ask you. But I will start with your focus on the Church of the Holy Apostles as a rare multiracial church at this fascinating moment. And it reminded me of the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, the predominantly African-American Episcopal church that hosted the ordination of the Philadelphia 11.

And I see some people on the call who were at that event today. And I hope they'll chime in. But I wonder if you have any thoughts about why racial diversity made this space safer for gender and sexual expansion of what it meant to be a good Christian and an ordination candidate.

HEATHER WHITE: It's such a wonderful question, Ann, because while Holy Apostles is rare, it certainly wasn't unique. It wasn't unique in the racial composition of the congregation. And it also wasn't unique in that it was a church that provided meeting spaces for gay groups in the city of New York.

The Church of the Advocate is a great example of another progressive congregation that had its space opened to community groups. And I could give many other examples. And actually, when you start lining up the examples, this question of what are some commonalities, Glide Church in San Francisco is another example.

I have an entire file of the congregations in Boston and, I mean, in Chicago, in Oklahoma City, and Dallas. And it was frequently churches that were in sites known as homosexual ghettos. And often, those so-called homosexual ghettos were often in the '60s and '70s, ethnically and racially diverse, not always but often. And so one of the--

And then another thing that was important about all of these different congregations is they had pastors or rectors or priests who were invested in community outreach activities and often in some cases, trained. And this is some of what I looked at in Reforming Sodom trained by the Chicago Urban Center that were trained in community organizing tactics within the field of urban ministries. So we're thinking about how to transform what their congregation and what their church was for by opening the walls to the community around it.

So in many cases, these are congregations who's sense of sacred identity was formed in the process of community and bridge building. And that led to, in most cases, a congregation that invited its neighbors, again, many times, people of color as leaders and members of the congregation. And I think that sense of having an identity shaped around bridge building made them also more likely to open up the doors of the church to gay community groups, who wanted to have meeting places. It was a sense that, no, this was what the gospel or this is what their faith taught them to do.

So getting a larger picture of what these congregations look like is part of what I'm hoping to do in this project. So there's a broader picture to be gained by looking across the different cities to look at the congregations that had these, that had their spaces open to gay groups. And then there's also, in the case of looking at Holy Apostles, real insights from being able to understand the specifics of the conversation and the contestation over how to use the space in relationship to these groups.

Because even if there were already members of the congregation who were gay, even if the congregation was already invested in bridge-building activities, there were still pieces. There were still a risk and a debate in coming and having a more public conversation about the issues that gay groups' use of the space brought up, particularly when those gay groups were really striving to politically and personally for a public proud gay identity, which meant things like inviting the reporter to come to that same-sex union ceremony.

And so it was one thing for the congregation to quietly say, we're OK for there to be a union ceremony in our congregation. It was another thing for that ceremony to appear in the press and for everyone else to know about it. So the--

But at the same time, in looking at those micro issues, one of the things that becomes a bit more visible is it wasn't an absolute sense of, is gayness or queerness sacred or not? There are layers of things like what if-- what's the publicity or the privacy involved in this issue, right? So this sense that if the tradition has been to have decorum and make sure that nobody knows that this congregation is quietly allowing gays and lesbians, same sex people to have union ceremonies, there's another level of issue involved in becoming public about it. So that's to say in this in-between space, this fraught in flux, is it sacred? Is it free? And the various questions that have to be managed and negotiated and decided upon in what can happen in that space.

There's a way of teasing apart the layers of, what does it mean actually for sexuality to be sacred or not, for gender to be sacred or not? What does it mean for queer folks to experience freedom in relationship to religion, right? There are layers and layers to be teased apart, and that looking at those categories in the absolute sense doesn't get those layers that I think we see more readily by looking at a congregation and a movement that shared space and negotiated how to share it together.

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you. A question has just appeared in the chat, which I haven't had a chance to read yet, but I will read it to you. Francis says, "I am a queer and trans student of color in the MDiv program at HDS considering ordination. Given the trend of declining membership and societal importance of churches in the US today and how queer spaces are relatively common and available now in cities, what can we take from the past about Holy Apostles and apply to the present about the relationship between queer communities and churches? Asking because most of my queer friends would never step foot inside a church again and find beautiful ways to access the sacred without it." Thank you, Francis, for that question.

HEATHER WHITE: Yes, thank you, Francis, for that question. I'll often say I will continue to talk until another question appears. So that's to say don't wait for me to stop if you have a question.

So one of the things I love about that question about how does this study inform our thinking today-- I'm going to answer it somewhat elliptically. What I think is really interesting is how similarly positioned today are the LGBT centers that were the outgrowth of that ideal for free space and progressive congregations that are often located in the same neighborhoods, that often are sharing space with multiple community groups.

I'll say Holy Apostles today is best known for its soup kitchen ministry. And I visited the congregation just this past November. And an entire wall of the sanctuary was basically packaged groceries, an innovation of the soup kitchen during this time of COVID when it became impossible for people to actually meet and eat in the church. So they've been giving out massive amounts of groceries to people in the neighborhood, as well as packaging meals to go.

So the church's identity now is almost defined around the social service ministry and in many ways, has become-- well, there's a similar relationship, a very similar-- the nonprofit organizations as churches and nonprofit organizations as LGBT centers struggle with a similar set of issues about how to maintain buildings, how to continue funding, how to make choices about how to use the space.

So there's a lot about this history that I think-- that I hope can illuminate some of the questions today about shared space in the sites in which groups that are seeking a sense of-- I mean, at some level seeking a sense of just being OK whether it's sacred space or free space, that finding collective space is hard. It's harder perhaps now when LGBT people are just as likely to be able to use the internet and dating apps to find each other. So LGBT centers are also struggling with some of the same issues about using space as our congregations.

And I think, if anything, an insight is to just really ask questions and talk to people who are making those decisions and know that there's as much to learn from congregations as there are people managing LGBT centers. There's a lot to learn from the-- there's different nonprofit groups that are working to be stewards of their space. So I hope that helps.

I see the question, "do I have any Hindu stories?" And I'll say this. One of the-- well, here's the Hindu story is-- I'm sure that there are-- the story I know is not about Hindu congregations that are making decisions about hosting gay groups. I mean, in many ways liberal Protestant congregations were really common as these meeting sites precisely because of their establishment role in American religion. So church meeting spaces had for a long time been community centers.

But the Hindu stories that I'm interested in is the religious experimentation taking place within gay movement participants, that there was a real interest in spirituality in a way that was defined against religion and Hinduism and other forms of Eastern spirituality to use it. Problematic binary were very much a site of exploration for LGBT groups, particularly in the 1960s. So that is my little, thin story. And I'll turn it back to, Ann, to ask questions.

ANN BRAUDE: Thanks, Heather. I'm going to go to a question from Ann Redding. She asks, "have you been able to find any sermons of the clergy at Holy Apostles over those years? If so, how have they informed you about the ways in which the sharing of sacred space was understood theologically?"

HEATHER WHITE: Hi, Ann. I'm so delighted to hear from you. Ann is my colleague at the University of Puget Sound and also a former-- I hope I get this right-- priest associate at Holy Apostles.

And I have not found a sermon during those years. So what I have found are vestry minutes and other publications. But I do have a opinion article that was written by Father Robert Weeks that does give a sense of how he was understanding his relationship to the gay movement theologically.

And in many ways, it sounds a lot like the liberal theology of its day and especially much of what was part of Harvey-- oh, man, I can't believe I'm blanking on this name. I'll come back to it. But the sense of the church needed to turn itself inside out and to do outreach with its neighbors and that the outsider and the marginalized perspective being allowed to enter the church would transform Christianity for the better.

So he did very much see those LGBT groups as representing the marginalized and the welcome of them into the congregation as something that would transform, in a good way, Christian theology. At the same time, many of those-- the members of those gay groups were relatively elite. And some of them even-- I have some correspondence shows that especially members of those older veteran homophile organizations found this perspective to be a little bit demeaning.

They're like, we have a credit card. Why she didn't have credit card? Harvey Cox. Thank you. Because they were fully able to pay for this space and in some ways, saw it as a financial exchange and didn't want to be thought of as being marginalized even as in many ways around sexual identity they were.

So there's-- even in the theological ways of making sense of that relationship, there are even further layers. And there's another-- the other story is that Father Weeks also had a transformation in the middle of his ministry in his own understanding of what he was doing in sharing space with gay groups. He had a charismatic conversion and ultimately saw that all of his relationships with community organizations needed to serve the cause of the gospel, which is a very different understanding than he began with as a more social justice-oriented service in itself is a ministry. So that is a lot for many, many, many-- that is a lot. Yeah. Thank you for that question, Ann Holmes Redding.

ANN BRAUDE: Heather, we just have a couple of more minutes. And I would like to give the last question to my friend and colleague Terry Todd, who has a question that follows from this discussion about the term "sanctuary" and the multiple meanings and multivalent meanings of that term for church space and whether you can shed light on the term's history for a space free from violence and brutality in relation to this inquiry.

HEATHER WHITE: Yeah, thank you, Ann. And I'll address Terry Todd's question. There's a piece of Art [INAUDIBLE] question that, I think, connects to how the multivalent meanings in church spaces and especially the ideal, the righteous ideal of seeking space that is free from violence and brutality.

And I think there's a part of my question about the sacred and how to define the sacred. There's so much of that word that almost appears to lose power if it's not pure. So if there's-- and part of the question in practice-- so if the idea is that sacred needs to be absent utterly of any form of violence and brutality, so then there's debate. So what is violence? Is there is epistemological violence? What about the way words are used?

And then some of that, as it folds out, sometimes results in different groups being perceived as a threat. And that's almost where the effort to realize this pure understanding of the sacred can also, in different ways-- well, and I'll say-- as I'm saying this, I'm like, of course, it happens too frequently that the effort to realize a pure form of the sacred also causes and is indeed fundamentally related to instances of violence and brutality, that edge of the sacred as sacred for us as somehow something to be defended from the violation from this other group.

And I think there's actually something back to Art's question about negotiated space as free space. There is something in the messiness of good enough space that challenges that some of those purist ideals in ways that-- I mean, my hope, right? Or that might at least potentially offer partial impure ways of thinking about the sacred that can also be more generous and accommodating. More vulnerable, I think, could be the word.

And, of course, the question is always, who bears the vulnerability? But I'll say my interest here and one of the things that I'm interested in, particularly in the way Holy Apostles works out the meaning of sacred even as they're debating potential and actual perceived instances of violation, having that reporter come in uninvited by members of the church into our space and tell everybody that there was a same-sex union ceremony-- violation of the sacred, a violation of trust.

And yet, there's a way that that revelation, that this was a space that allowed this to happen also laid the foundation for a transformation of the sacred. So there may be a kind of understanding of the sacred that isn't pure, that is, in fact, impure. And there's certainly authors in queer theology that have explored that theme about the unholy sacred and thinking about vulnerability, provocation as queer forms of realizing and living what is sacred. So those are a lot of big ideas. I'd love to talk more about them. I see there are also more questions. Back to you, Ann.

ANN BRAUDE: There are more questions. I think this conversation could go on a long time. I know that we're going to want to come back to this conversation when the book is out. No pressure, no pressure. Take your time. But it's really such a fascinating project.

And I want to thank Heather for doing work that is so consequential that it drew a really remarkable audience today of colleagues and scholars and friends across the country who care deeply about these issues. So I don't-- we can't really join in applause online. But I just-- I know I'm expressing it for all of the dozens and dozens of people who are here today to tell you how grateful we are for you for your work and your insight and your creativity in helping us understand our experience of safe, sacred, and free space. So thank you so much, Heather.

HEATHER WHITE: Thank you so much. And thank you all for joining me here. I'm delighted to see the names of the folks who are here in this Zoom call. There some really beloved folks here. So thank you for listening. Thank you for being here. I look forward to more conversation.