In 2015, a group of students, pastors, and community members from various church backgrounds sat down together at Penn State and discussed the need for a space uniquely for LGBTQ and allied Christians to worship together. Out of these discussions came the idea for this group. Our format is simple: one worship service a month, one bible study evening a month, and periodic community event/service opportunities. We hope this will be a place to grow together, to learn from one another, to understand God through the eyes of others and to open eyes ourselves and within the community around us. We believe our lives are gifts from God, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that we believe in a God of whom we are not ashamed.
Why do you think your organization is important and meaningful on campus?
I would consider myself lucky. I have extremely loving and supporting parents, and when I came out as gay, they were very accepting of me. But, a lot of LGBT youth do not have support from their families or spiritual communities. There are people out there being hurt, and LGBT youth are at a high risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, sexual assault, college dropout, and the list goes on. In reality, the default of choosing not to talk about religion and the LGBT community is causing people to die. Some students might not feel comfortable reaching out to their Churches because they have faced rejection and might be scarred from previous experiences. I know this organization is meaningful because we provide support to people who need it the most – people who aren’t getting support from anywhere else.
How did you decide to take on your role as one of the founders of Receiving with Thanksgiving?
I wanted to create a space on campus where we can talk about peoples’ identities and how it relates to their religion. There are quite a few Christian groups on campus, but only a few are LGBT affirming. My experience in the Presbyterian Westminster Fellowship is what enabled me to go out on a limb and start this organization. I don’t think I would have been able to do that without the support of my spiritual communities – not only from the students in the faith, but the pastors as well. I wanted to create a group where you could bring your true self, and instead of creating a “don’t ask don’t tell” atmosphere, I wanted to create a space where we could be open to talk. I don’t want to shut down the conversation like most Churches do. I want to start the conversation. I think coming down harshly on LGBT youth is a barrier to God, and looking at history you can see that we have made progress towards equality, and I believe that trajectory should continue.
How does your work with Receiving with Thanksgiving give you the opportunity to use your gifts and passions?
For me, I think this is definitely a spiritual calling as well. Right now, I’m in a situation where I’m out as gay, and I’m involved in Christian and LGBT communities. I have an opportunity and platform to make a difference – I can be a bridge builder between the communities because I’m involved in both. Since I’m in a place of good mental health, I feel as if I was called to do this ministry. I want to make a difference at Penn State, but also when I leave Penn State. When I’m a high school math teacher someday, maybe I can be that visible LGBT person who students can turn to. As a teacher, I’m going to deal with kids who are homophobic, transphobic, and who are LGBT. I know I can use my leadership gifts to make a difference in those students’ lives. I don’t believe in discerning by yourself. I believe it is a process that includes your community as well.
Why do you think your organization makes a difference in this world?
Penn state is one of the largest organizations in the country. People who leave Penn State are going to be future politicians, Church leaders, and community members. They will have kids someday, and those people can impact future LGBT kids. Connecting with college kids and investing in the community will mean that PSU can be a safer place. The years after we leave Penn State will be the years that make a difference.
Anything to say for students who might want to join this club?
I encourage you all to reach out to me, whether or not you’re LGBT. I’m willing to talk to people who disagree with me and want to have a conversation about faith. If there are any students out there who need anything, please contact me at Dbf150@psu.edu. I also encourage anyone to join our club! Non-denominational students, LGBT or straight students – we welcome anyone!