To Marilyn DuFour, he was “Uncle Ralph,” a teacher and later a florist who was active in his church as a lay preacher.
After he died in 1989, Mrs. DuFour learned two things she hadn't known about her mother's brother: He was gay and, had his church not prohibited the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, he might have become a minister. “I think he kind of de-selected himself from that when he finally accepted his sexual orientation.”
Next weekend, the story of Mrs. DuFour's Uncle Ralph will become part of a traveling exhibit of clerical stoles that will make a stop in Toledo to focus attention on the plight of gays and lesbians who feel called to the ministry.
The exhibit, known as the Shower of Stoles project, was started by Martha Juillerat and Tammy Lindahl, two Presbyerian Church (USA) ministers whose lesbian relationship with each other became known during a three-year dialogue on human sexuality their denomination began in 1993. In 1995, the two women asked gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered friends and colleagues to send stoles to hang in the church on the day Ms. Juillerat was to set aside her ordination.
Expecting to receive a few dozen of the liturgical garments, they were surprised when 80 arrived. Later, more stoles continued to pour in and soon they had 200, then 350. Today, the collection includes more than 800 stoles from people in more than a dozen denominations from the United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Southern and Free Will Baptist churches.
Mrs. DuFour, a member of Monroe Street United Methodist Church, first saw the Shower of Stoles collection during last year's General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Cleveland. It was there that she and her mother, who died in February, got the idea to add a stole to the exhibit in memory of their uncle and brother.
In planning a dedication service for the stole, Mrs. DuFour suggested having a small display from the Shower of Stoles project at her church. The idea grew to include St. Paul's and Central United Methodist churches, along with St. Lucas Lutheran and St. Mark's Episcopal, and a decision was made to bring 600 of the collection's 800 stoles to Toledo.
“It's just been an amazing journey to us,” Mrs. DuFour said. “It started as a very small thing, just my family trying to make a memorial. With the love and support of all these churches God has just grown it into such a big witness to the whole community.”
Plans are to display 450 of the stoles at Monroe Street United Methodist. Another 100 will be shown at Central United Methodist, and 50 each will be exhibited at St. Lucas Lutheran, St. Paul's United Methodist, and St. Mark's Episcopal.
Mrs. DuFour's uncle's stole will be presented to Ms. Juillerat, the Shower of Stoles project director, during an ecumenical Liturgy of Honor at 1 p.m. Nov. 17 in Monroe Street United Methodist, 3613 Monroe St. Also presented will be a stole for Tanya Pike, spiritual director at Central United Methodist Church.
Ms. Pike, who will preach at the service, cannot be ordained in the United Methodist Church because she is a lesbian who has been in a relationship with another woman for 15 years.
“She is a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church, which is about the only thing she can be as a gay person,” said the Rev. Cheri Holdridge, pastor of Central United Methodist.
“In some ways,” Ms. Pike said, “I am one of the lucky ones because I'm serving in full-time ministry, doing what I feel called to do.”
The first local showing of the Shower of Stoles will be during a concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Central United Methodist, 701 West Central Ave., where 100 stoles will be on display. Performing will be 4 Unity, the faculty women's quartet from Toledo Campus Ministry at the University of Toledo; Sisters in Song, the clergywomen's choir of the United Methodist Church's West Ohio Conference, and Spectrum, a local women's chorus.
Monroe Street United Methodist will display the largest group of the stoles from noon to 5 p.m. Nov. 17 at the church, where about 150 of them will be exhibited during a worship service at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 18 and during the Erase the Hate closing Thanksgiving service at 7 p.m. Nov. 18.
Smaller collections of the stoles will be exhibited during worship services at the following locations and times:
Ms. Juillerat will preach during this service and also will speak during the open Sunday school forum at 9 a.m. Nov. 18 in Monroe Street United Methodist.
First displayed in full at the 1996 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Albuquerque, N.M., the Shower of Stoles exhibition is now seen more than 100 times a year throughout North America.