Mary Vogelzang

I have a pretty deep connection to the Christian Reformed Church. Both my parents were long-time members; my father was a CRC minister and missionary. Because of this, I moved every seven or eight years, and lived in Chicago; Sheldon, Iowa; Bellevue, Washington; and Newton, Iowa. I am the youngest of seven children, and we went to Christian schools wherever we lived.

After graduating from high school, I went to Calvin College in Michigan. After a few years there, my mom started getting sick and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so I moved home and finished my nursing degree in the Seattle area. At about the same time, my parents officially retired from the CRC. I lived at home to spend time with and take care of my mom until she had to go to a nursing home. 

After leaving Calvin to take care of my Mom I went to a community college in Seattle and played basketball there. It was the first time I had ever been around people who were openly gay. This was around 1985 or so, so when I say they were “openly gay,” I don’t mean it was like it is today. But there were women on the team who talked about having girlfriends and so on. The community college wasn’t Christian, and was unlike anywhere else I had been before. Previously I had only gone to Christian schools, so to have people who were talking like that about who they were dating was very surprising to me. During that time, I developed a crush on my coach, who soundly rejected me, but that experience forced me to look at myself and ask: “What is this feeling that I have?”

I started realizing that there had always been certain women in my life, typically older women, towards whom I had really strong feelings. I always just thought we were just really good friends, and I admired them for being such lovely people that I just really liked. However, after having that experience with my coach, I was able to look back and identify those relationships differently.

When my mom passed away, I wasn’t really even “out” to myself, and at that point I was still dating men. I was certainly starting to ask myself what it meant that I was attracted to women, but I was still dating men because it was just what was comfortable. My mom died when I was 24, and around that time, I cut off contact with the church. Members of the local CRC attempted contact with me, but I had already stopped attending church when I went to Calvin. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t going because I wanted to go; I was going because that was what was expected.

My parents could not have raised children in a more stringently CRC manner. We did all the catechism and grew up as children of CRC pastors and missionaries. But now none of us are in the CRC and all of us have chosen different churches for various reasons. My sister was the last of us to attend a CRC church. She married a man whose family was really involved in the North Seattle CRC church. But then her son came out as gay. People in the church basically said, “How hard for you, to have to choose your son or the church!” And she was like, “Uhhh, no.” She realized that the church was really quite anti-gay and she just didn’t feel like she could go anymore.

My spouse and I are both former-CRC members, and neither of us plan to return to that denomination. We are both nurses, and we met at work. We’ve been together since 2004. She and I have a daughter, who is such a blessing to us. We also fostered two little boys for a while, and they ended up being adopted by two dads. The amazing part is that we are now the boys’ legal godparents. We see them a lot, and we enjoy spending time with the dads, so we vacation with the dads and the boys, and it’s kind of this one big happy family of seven: two gay couples and three kids. Our daughter thinks of them as cousins.

I think it’s sad when churches can’t adapt and change. I do sometimes go to church now, occasionally. My wife and I wanted to renew that connection when we had a child, so we found a church close to us that we feel like we could be comfortable in … but to be honest, it’s sometimes still a struggle for both of us. It’s the University Congregational United Church of Christ. At the time we joined, two of the three ministers or pastors were gay; it’s an open and affirming church that practices what they preach when it comes to ministry. 

I do sometimes feel sad that we are so far removed from the CRC now. It’s a church with lots of history and heritage, and it’s sad that my daughter won’t know that part of it. But I am not sad enough that we would go back — since there is no CRC church that would actually accept us.