When Lyle Clark fell in love with a member of the Christian Reformed Church, he was introduced to a way of integrating his faith into his daily life that, as a Christian raised in the Roman Catholic Church, he hadn’t experienced before. And, as a classically trained musician who had been involved in leading and participating in worship all his life, Lyle also appreciated the liturgy of the CRC and the sense of belonging in a congregation.
And for Fred Heerema, Lyle’s partner for more than 30 years, the Christian Reformed Church was the place he was born and raised. The couple met while they were both attending another church, and even though that church was affirming, Fred, especially, missed “a depth of faith experience, the kinds of things the Reformed community stands for, it’s social and cultural involvement.” Fred longed to be back “within my own background and tradition.”
For most of their time together, the couple have been active, participating members of First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto, a place where Lyle is involved in the worship committee and in leading worship, and Fred is currently on the finance committee. Some years ago, Lyle also officially joined the Christian Reformed Church after doing profession of faith. Most importantly, for Lyle and Fred, it’s a place “where the people are caring and supportive.”
Both Lyle and Fred are grateful for the opportunity to use their gifts to support their church, and they are glad to be in a community that sees their identity as Christians as more important than their sexual orientation. “In terms of my identity, first of all, I am a child of God, and the second is, I’m gay,” Fred says, quoting a pastor he knows.
As an adolescent, growing up in the CRC, Fred struggled with his growing awareness of his sexual orientation as a gay person, but “there has not been a time in my life when I felt estranged from God. There have been times when I was in doubt whether I was okay with God, but I never felt that I was not accepted by God.” That realization hit home for him when a wise and kind therapist asked him once, if he were standing in front of Christ right now, how do you think Christ would treat you?
“I said, ‘I think Christ would love me.’”
As a youth and young man, Lyle felt less conflict between his faith and being gay because of what he calls the “the duality” experienced by many Roman Catholics: “you go to Sunday mass and you confess your sins, and then for the rest of the week, it’s just your everyday life that really has nothing to do with the Christian faith.”
Both say they are grateful for the love and stability that their committed relationship gives them and the ordinariness of their daily lives. Fred laments the situation of gay friends who don’t enjoy the comfort and blessing of a committed relationship, while for Lyle, having the blessing of a Christian life partner has drawn him deeper into his Christian walk and into his sense of God’s love and presence in his life.
Quoting Victor Hugo, Lyle says: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”