Collection of stoles from LGBT clergy on display at Northaven UMC, including stole from local minister Stephen Sprinkle
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
The Shower of Stoles — a portion of which is now on display at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas — is a collection of liturgical stoles from LGBT religious leaders representing about 30 Jewish and Christian denominations from six countries on three continents.
Stoles are the religious garb worn by clergy around the neck, usually over a clerical robe. This collection, started by a lesbian minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) whose ordination was threatened when she came out, is designed to “connect with people emotionally,” creating an impact similar to that of the NAMES Project AIDS Memoral Quilt, said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Voelkel said the collection is an important artifact of the ongoing battle for ordination equality in mainstream churches.
In 1993, Voelkel explained, the Presbyterian Church called for a three-year period of open dialogue on human sexuality. The Rev. Martha Juillerat, a Presbyterian minister from rural Missouri, participated by traveling around her district participating in dozens of conferences and opening dialogues in churches throughout the area.
Despite the invitation to come out, there was no guarantee that Juillerat wouldn’t face repercussions.
And in fact, she did.
Voelkel said that when the Presbyterian Church threatened to revoke Juillerat’s ordination in 1995, she put word out for other LGBT clergy to send her their stoles and stories. Within a week she had 75.
When Presbytery officials gathered to discuss her case, “she lined the room with stoles,” Voelkel said.
Within a few weeks the collection had grown to more than 200.
After Juillerat retired, she donated the collection to the NGLTF’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, which now maintains it. The collection has grown to about 1,200 pieces.
Today, parts of the collection are exhibited in about 100 places each year. Voelkel said that some churches use the display as part of the welcoming process, but others bring in the collection before they are even ready to talk about it.
She called it “a roomful of silent witnesses.”
Those witnesses can have an impact. Just last week, 18 years later Juillerat’s fight, the Presbyterian Church voted to allow ordination of LGBT clergy.
A display of 50 stoles will be on exhibit at Northaven United Methodist Church through June 5, said the Rev. Eric Folkerth. The church is a welcoming congregation with a large LGBT membership. Northaven is also a beneficiary of the Black Tie Dinner.
Folkerth said his church has hosted the exhibit before: “It was very moving and an inspiring thing to see.”
While other churches use the collection to begin a dialogue, Folkerth said, “This is a reminder that we are so blessed.”
Folkerth said that in terms of creating change, it would be better for the stoles to be somewhere else. But, “It’s important to remind ourselves what’s going on in the rest of the church.”
Among the stoles in the collection is one from the Rev. Steven Sprinkle, an associate professor at Texas Christian University. In his accompanying story, Sprinkle said that he served several congregations as a single person. Congregants suspected he was gay and he was targeted with graffiti on his house and had his car ties slashed.
“In an attempt to drive me away, my pet Basset hound, Beau, and my English bulldog, Buck, were butchered and hung up in the back yard of my parsonage,” Sprinkle said. “There was a lot of fear in my life.”
But Sprinkle said he didn’t run. Instead he came out after a close friend told him, “If there are no secrets, Steve, there can be no ambushes.”
Shower of Stoles exhibit, Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road. Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. and Sun. 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. through June 5. 214-363-2479. Northaven.org.