After a roller coaster of life changes, coming out led to loving acceptance

My mother was devoted to her church, and her church gratefully accepted her gifts of time and talent—until her husband left her.

As a woman who was about to be divorced, she was asked to stay away from the church. She could type the bulletin from home, but it would be better if she no longer attended.

Lesson heard. Lesson learned. You can imagine the rules I superimposed on my own life.

Fast-forward a few decades. My life had been full of experiences. Some I shared with others, some I kept private, but all of them contributed to my growth. I became a single mother, then a married woman and a corporate manager.

Life was unfolding more or less according to script, although there were footnotes.

  • I discovered transcendental meditation.
  • I read Ram Dass’s Be Here Now (HarperOne, 2010).
  • I learned affirmative prayer. And I found a Unity community.

It was a great spiritual awakening—a growing understanding of the meaning of oneness, of an intimate relationship with Spirit, and unconditional acceptance. This awakening led me to become a minister.

Finding Myself, Leaving My Husband

As a church leader with two kids and married to a man, I knew there were expectations for my husband’s role in the community and a lot of curiosity about him. There was also mental illness that I believed was a threat to my life.

On March 8, International Women’s Day in 2012, I walked out with the clothes on my back after 23 years of marriage. I had a lot to deal with personally—where to live, getting my essential belongings and papers—but I also had to find a way to share the news with my congregation.

I remembered what happened to my mother when her husband left her, and I had done “worse.” I left my husband.

Two Sundays into my new experience, I told the congregation and held my breath. There were a few murmurs, but that was it. I was still Rev. Sharon. Married or divorced, I was still their minister.

Changes didn’t stop there.

The fact that I have a wife is just a fact, as simple as the fact that my name is Sharon, I’m five feet tall, and I have two kids.

Coming Out, Again and Again

When I started dating, I found I made better choices in women partners than men. I began a serious relationship with a woman who was relatively well-known in our town and brought her as my date to church events.

While it didn’t feel appropriate to announce it from the pulpit, it was obvious to our congregation that I was now in a same-sex relationship. There was curiosity and surprise, but the congregation I had served for 13 years continued to accept me, straight or gay, married or single. I was embraced for who I was.

Three years later, I received a very clear message that my work with this congregation was complete. It was difficult to say goodbye, especially to people who had supported me unconditionally through so many life changes. I moved to a new city, new home, and new life.

Engaged to be married to a wonderful woman, I meditated and read while I looked for a new spiritual community. One day, I noticed an advertisement for a minister at the local Unity church. It read like a tailor-made request for someone with my particular skills.

I felt compelled to apply, but then came the interview process. 

To share or not to share? How do I come out to these strangers who did not know me? Were all Unity communities affirming or was my previous congregation an exception?

In our first face-to-face meeting, I shared that I was planning to marry a woman. No one blinked an eye. It turned out that their previous senior minister was gay. I stepped into the role of their leader, and the entire congregation celebrated my marriage with my wife.

That was years ago. The fact that I have a wife is just a fact, as simple as the fact that my name is Sharon, I’m five feet tall, and I have two kids.

Unity has been a safe haven for me through the growth times, through major life changes, and through failures and successes.

My commitment now is to minister in such a way that anyone stepping into my church will find the same safety and acceptance I experienced.

About the Author

Rev. Sharon Ketchum (she, her) is the minister at Unity Spiritual Center of Lansing, Michigan.

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