This is the third in a series on “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality.”

One of the reasons Mike Saag (MD, Founder of The 1917 Clinic, and now head of Infectious Diseases at UAB) wanted to hire a chaplain for his clinic in 1994 was to do outreach to churches and the faith community.

He said, “Malcolm, we need help with the churches. They are hurting our patients more than helping them.” He was of course, referring to the stigma, judgment, and just plain meanness that some churches were exhibiting towards their own members and our patients when they found out they were HIV positive, and gay. The two went hand in hand in those years. (Click on picture.)

It was ironic to me that a physician who happened to be Jewish, and a businessman who happened to be Methodist, convinced a state university hospital system to hire a Chaplain who happened to be Baptist, to reach out to churches so that they could help rather than hurt its patients at the AIDS clinic. An innovative outreach program to say the least.

But there were also many churches and synagogues, and clergy persons, who wanted to help our patients, partners, and families in those early years. One of them was The Reverend Timothy Holder from Grace Episcopal in Birmingham.

“Hi Malcolm, this is Tim Holder from Grace Church,” he said in an unassuming manner on the phone. “I read about your work in the newspaper the other day and wanted to see if I could come and visit you to see how we could help.” We became friends. I learned later he was gay.

Today, he is the rector of the Church of the Ascension in Atlantic City, NJ. He is innovative, creative, and open to the Spirit as evidenced by a book he edited called The Hip Hop Prayer Book. He has been sensitive to the neighborhood he serves and has found ways to reach out to young people and bring them into the church with a hip hop worship style in the church.

Better yet, hear Tim in his own words.

I love my life and work as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Ordained the first openly gay priest in Alabama in 1997, I have experienced ‘complete joy’ that God wishes for all his children. I know pain and defeat, from which we learn, but joy and love conquer all fear and darkness (1 John 4:18). I celebrate joy and love because I am so happy that God created me who I am, a gay man. I am not sure I would be a priest in the Church if I were not gay. I am not sure if I would have been able to stand with Latino/a refugees and immigrants in Alabama and create a brand new congregation – also a first – as anything but a gay man.

Moving to the South Bronx of New York in 2002, resisting the Church’s call for celibacy and silence in my good home of Alabama, I became priest to an all-African American and Caribbean American congregation. Celebrating ‘Street and Altar’ with all my gay heart, I became a hip hop priest! And let me tell you, hip hop – children and young people – know the real deal. Gay is the real deal, sisters and brothers. I learned that early in life, thank God.

If we can stand up and celebrate – really celebrate – the humanity God gives each and every human being – g-a-y – then we can stand up and celebrate the abundance of humanity revealed to us in the unending color, awesomeness and beauty of God’s greater creation. This is just my story, but isn’t it wonderful?

Why all these things, so unexpected, so unlikely? ‘Gay’ is who I am and knowing this I can love myself as God loves me. ‘Gay’ like the priesthood, like Anglo-Catholic, like Latino/a, like African American, like hip hop is who I am and anything else would be just a lie. How boring is that?

Tim Holder is one of the reasons I believe that God can work through any of us, gay or straight, if we are open to reaching out to others.

Sometimes when we reach out, we are the ones who are changed.

Note: See Hip Hop in Action in Worship