Nov 4, 2015

Saving the Nazarene Boy

For all the misery and deprivation of growing up in the Nazarene Church, there were some advantages.  Three services per week, plus Sunday School, Nazarene Young People's Society, Afterglow, summer camp, revivals, adult and teen choirs, fall and spring cantatas, Christmas pageants, and miscellaneous special numbers -- we spent half our lives singing.

We learned to read music almost as soon as we could walk.  Keys, chords, timbre, arpeggios, adaggio, tremolo, glissando were second nature.

We were accompanied by the piano and organ only.

And only girls played them.

Boys could learn the piano and organ, to help them with their voice lessons, or if they planned to become Ministers of Music.  But they never played in front of the church.  A boy pianist or organist would have been as bizarre as a girl preacher.

I left the Nazarene church years ago, but my mother and sister still call or email me regularly, to tell of the going ons, the squabbles with preachers, the relationships of the children and grandchildren of people I used to know -- and, when they all moved to Indiana in 1995, the children and grandchildren of people I've never met.

One day Mom said "I don't know what got into the preacher's son!  He's studying music at Olivet.."

"So what?  Maybe he wants to become a Minister of Music."

"No."  Mom paused, breathless with scandal.  "He's concentrating in the organ!"

I grinned.  A boy organist!  It was as gender-transgressive as a boy wearing a dress!   "I'm surprised they even allow him to major in the organ.  Do they let him play in church?"

"Not yet.  But his dad promised to let him accompany the singers at the cantata."  That was an all-music service that we had at Christmastime.

I thought immediately: "Gay kid!" and "Needs saving from Nazarene homophobia!"

So I flew home for the holidays, and went to the Sunday morning service at the ultra-homophobic Nazarene church

I hadn't been inside a Nazarene church, except for weddings and funerals, since college.  I kept close to Mom and Dad so no one would pounce on me as "fresh meat."

The cantata consisted of an adult choir of ten people, a children's choir, and five soloists.  No one wore robes, of course.  They sang the same songs I remembered from countless cantatas as a kid: "His Name is Wonderful," "Do You Hear What I Hear?"; "What Child is This," and a single nod to classical music "O Come, Emmanuel" from The Messiah. 

Simon the preacher's kid was a slim sandy-haired twink, about 20 years old, with a long face and and slim, delicate hands.  He closed his eyes while playing, as if the music was flowing through his fingers directly to the keys.


Definitely gay.

Nazarenes don't have coffee hours for cruising...um, I mean socializing...after church, but some socializing goes on in the foyer as you're waiting to shake the preacher's hand on the way out.  The choir members got effusive praise, but Simon stood by himself, being studiously ignored by everyone except some of the teens.

I walked over and introduced myself, and Simon politely said "Praise the Lord" and shook my hand.  He had a warm, loose handshake.

"I think it's great that you want to become a church organist," I said.  "There's no reason why a man can't be an organist, or a woman a Minister of Music."

Whoops! A controversial statement!  But Simon grinned.  Apparently he was a member of that rare breed, a liberal Nazarene.



Would my superheroic attractiveness to twinks work on a Nazarene?  I decided not to risk it, and went with place-dropping.

"Um....I know a guy in California who's a church organist."

"California!"  His eyes widened.  "I'd love to go there someday!"

"I lived in West Hollywood for 10 years and San Francisco for two."

"Wow!  Weren't you...um...scared of the gays?"

My face burned.  Homophobic!  But then, I was mega-homophobic when I was his age.  Before I came out.

"Oh, no," I said.  "They never bothered me."

One of the teens -- a boy, I noticed -- whispered something in Simon's ear.

"I'd love to hear about it, but we have to go.  Maybe we could hang out tomorrow?"

"Sure.  I'll come by the parsonage at noon, and take you to lunch."  And a Gay 101 lesson!

The next day, we went to a Mexican restaurant, and I started my spiel.  "I knew lots of gay people in California...they were..."

"Older guys always beat around the bush," Simon said, cutting me off.  "I guess you had to, back when you were young.  But nowadays we just ask.  Yep, I'm gay.  And you are, too."

I stared.

"Don't get me wrong.  It was cute, watching you try to bring up the topic without saying it."

"Um...is it ok, being gay at a Nazarene college?"

"I have to keep a low profile, but I'm out to all of my friends.  Some of my professors, too."

"And your parents?"

He laughed.  "Oh, they're not happy with it, but they don't say anything.  They've even met my boyfriend.  Want to see his picture?"  He handed me his phone (top photo).  "They were more upset about his beard and tattoo than about us being a couple."

A preacher's kid and his boyfriend having dinner at a Nazarene parsonage!  My mind reeled.  "Is he a Nazarene, too?"

"Devout Episcopalian.  We met on Grindr.  Wanna see the selfie I used to get him interested?"  He took back his phone and flipped through his photos to find it.  Very cute, very big beneath the belt.

"Impressive," I said.

He dug into his chile relleno.  "What about you? You grew up in the Nazarene church in..what, the 1960s?  The 1970s?  You must have some horror stories!"

Nothing physical happened, but it was nice to meet a Nazarene boy who was out and proud, who didn't need saving after all.