A Loving Testimony to Carolyn & Tom Owen-Towle On Behalf of the Queer Community
by Jan Garbosky 6/28/02
For the past 24 years—since their first autumn at First Church—Tom and Carolyn have provided a place in which “affirming the inherent dignity and worth of all persons” is a beloved norm. Together and in their individual ministries, they have found ways to help this community explore “otherness” and support “oneness.” Because of their pioneering and support, this church has welcomed first gay; then lesbian and gay; then lesbian, gay and bisexual; and now lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning individuals and organizations. It is because of Carolyn and Tom’s vision and leadership that these church grounds have become a safe place where all of us can share our gifts.
First Church was the first to reach out to friends and families of AIDS patients offering a loving, supportive, and tranquil setting for memorial services and celebrations of life—often when no other church could be found. And, Tom and Carolyn personally led scores of such services. This church has been a beacon of love and a lifeline for those living with AIDS and for their families and friends.
Numerous LGBT organizations have called First Church their home for meetings, conferences, and practice and performance spaces. These include PFLAG, GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), the Women’s Chorus, San Diego Men’s Chorus, and San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus. The Owen-Towles attend functions and participate as speakers or bring greetings and opening words from the congregation.
Carolyn and Tom have also provided support to other spiritual groups dealing with sexual orientation issues. First Church is home to Dignity San Diego—the LGBT Catholic group—which holds its weekly worship service on the campus. And, as University Christian Church and other local Unitarian Universalist congregations began their discussions to become “affirming” or “welcoming” churches, Tom, Carolyn, and First Church members met with UCC parishoners and committees to share their experiences. Those of us in the congregation who are not heterosexual have been honored as Wholly Families; have been entrusted with the precious children and youth of this community as RE leaders, Choir Director, and friends; and been blessed by support of our unions and our families.
Although “transgender” as a concept has been part of the church’s vocabulary for a number of years, few church members were aware of the struggle of one well-loved church family as they dealt with mom’s understanding that she is truly “he.” On a truly historic “Wholly Family” Sunday in December 2001, two adults and two children offered us the gift of the struggles and joys of redefining their family configuration. Their sharing gave us the opportunity to begin to dismantle the “otherness” of this most misunderstood aspect of “LGBT-ness.”
Bonny and I are here because of Tom and Carolyn’s legacy. First Church was the first place I ever felt totally safe in a majority heterosexual setting. It is the first place we could talk about and receive acceptance of and support for our relationship. Because of Carolyn and Tom, I can stand before all of you as a lesbian and be sad, be silly, be grieving, be needy, be applauded, be comforted, be honest—be all of me.
I know I do not speak for myself alone but for all of you who have been the “other”—that that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer person over there. These two straight, but never narrow, ministers have given us a place at a table we could only dream of.
I invite all of you who are transgender, bisexual, gay, lesbian and queer to stand together one last time. Tom and Carolyn, we want to send you off with our love and thanks—for the great gift of their love—for the gift of helping us become “a part of” after years of hiding and being “apart from.” We honor you and say good-bye in this most treasured place, this church where we are safe, and loved, and whole.