Pastor Kenny Responds

Pastor Kenny. Pics stolen from his facebookery.

A Response to Your Pastoral Letter (Or How One Pastoral Letter Begets Another, Begets Another, Begets Another)

I’m a FB neophyte, so it took me quite a while to dig out your last pastoral letter once I had a little time to respond to it. I’ve not known how to respond to your pastoral letter because I wasn’t sure if or what might have been expected of me.  Was it an invitation to dialogue? In what forum?  I was just a little befuddled.  SO I figured, heck, I’ll just write something down on word doc and if Headly wants to publish it, so much the better.

I am going with Headly at your request, though I knew you as Marc.  I think we lost regular connection before you became Headly so it was good to hear your story about how the name came [about] and took.  Ken or Kenny works for me. Only my sisters, Marilyn and Nancy call me Kenny, so it reminds me of my past. (The name, btw was ruined by association with Barbie, and if it’s not too insulting to a fine musician, Kenny G. Nobody seems to name their kid Kenneth anymore.  Someone told me in Scottish (?) it means “handsome,” which [may] also account for its unpopularity. Who would want to name their kid “handsome”?  Alas. Mark has fared much better as a name, and the variant Marc (short for “Marcus”?) is a little exotic, given that we’re in the 1950’s Tom-Dick-Harrry-Mary-Deborah genre of Wonder Bread Names to begin in. But I digress.

I must say I have been honored by your interest in my little LGBT soap opera. Spreading the word about Letter to My Congregation, being interested, curious, sympathetic.  But it has also been comforting to reconnect a little bit with my Gilchrist past through your reaching out. 

Pastor Ken Wilson with wife Julia

My wife, Julia, grew up in Holland Michigan, where her dad still lives in the house she grew up in. (Her dad was an English Professor at Hope College.) She can go back to the house and stay overnight, as we have a few times since we got married.  Recently, at her moms memorial service, she met all sorts of people from her growing up years—people who babysat for her and for whom she babysat, teachers from high school, old friends.  It helped me realize how the decline of a city like Detroit can disconnect you from your past. 

Going back to the old neighborhood recently was stunning—urban blight such as I’d never seen just a few blocks South of where we grew up. Such an empty feeling. And no one from the old neighborhood to share it with. So reading your posts—especially your history of the Detroit riots—triggered all sorts of memories for me. Thank you.

One of the things I’d forgotten was just how racist things were growing up. You reminded me what it was like to grow up Jewish—and it all came rushing back, the horrible jokes about Jews, and Blacks, and Poles, and well, non WASPS. I remember being warned by someone not to attend a Catholic Mass because they spoke Latin and you didn’t know whether they were saying bad stuff or not.

It made me feel ashamed. Using the N-word was strictly forbidden in my family. Same with anti-Jewish rhetoric. But talk of “Injuns,” “Krauts” and “Japs” was tolerated. Now I’m ashamed. But I was also ashamed because of my forgetting. Forgetting how bad the Christian participation in anti-Semitism was in that era. Remembering how my late wife Nancy and I came to visit you in Toronto talking all our Jesus talk without remembering how your ears would have heard Jesus talk, having been called, as was common in that time, “Christ killer.” I can’t imagine what it would be like to associate the Jesus that I’m so ga-ga over with that kind of treatment from people who claim to be part of the religion he started. I have to admit, it’s a pretty reasonable thing to judge a religious figure by the behavior of the religion that he founded. So I can’t blame you for not picking up what Nancy and I were laying down in that trip to Toronto. 

Pastor Kenny’s very important
book, which got him thrown out of
the church he founded 45 years ago

By the way, it was fun to talk about that Toronto trip and to hear you say that you found it kind of interesting despite the fact that the God talk went on a little too much for your tastes. New converts to anything are a trip and I imagine I was one too. You should hear me talk to my friends who show any interest in my Fitbit. I get enthusiastic about things and want the whole world to adopt them. (Say Headly, have you tried the Fitbit? It’s amazing how it helps you be more active—I walk so much more now that I have one of these little wonders.)  But I digress again. I think you bring the elementary school of me, the Kenny locked up in Pastor Ken. 

I do know that there’s a connection between the mistreatment of the LGBT community and the Jewish community. In much the same way that anti-Semitism was tolerated in the Church for millennia—based on a handful of biblical texts taken out of historical context—a handful of texts taken out of historical context have propped up teachings that are harmful to vulnerable sexual minorities. The Second Vatican Counsel—which took place while we were growing up in Detroit—signaled an important reversal on this. Now there’s virtually no respectable Christian tradition in which it is OK to refer to Jewish people as “Christ-killers.”  Maybe the same reversal is underway today when it comes to sexual minorities. I certainly hope so.

And drum circles. I found it fascinating that you’ve gotten into them.  I’ve always thought they would be a blast.  I walk through the Diag sometimes and there’s a drum circle happening. They don’t seem to be looking for people to join them, but I’d like to. I always think of you now when I see them.  The feeling of connection with other people that happens with a drum circle has got to be pleasurable. You could do a lot worse for a communal spiritual practice than a drum circle. He said, approvingly.

OK now I have to figure out how send you this word doc via FB. Oh crap, is that even possible? 

Grace and peace to you, fellow pilgrim and pastoral letter writer.

Editor’s note: Kenneth John Wilson is my oldest friend in the world. We grew up together on Gilchrist Street in Detroit, catercorner from each other. We lost track of each other in the early ’70s.


Last year I was made aware that Pastor Kenny is shaking the foundations of organized Christianity with his book A Letter to my Congregation, which argues for full inclusion of the LGBT communities in all congregations. We have since reconnected to my extreme happiness.

There has been some slight editing of this Pastoral Letter for clarity and spelling.


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Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.