August 14, 2013: I had to tell a close friend and church leader of my gender dysphoria. That I might transition. Surely, I would lose him. What happened is nothing short of dazzling. I leave it with you as I take the next week off.
In August, 2013, I began telling people, who were important in my life, that I was retiring from the ministry because I suffered from gender dysphoria. The first of those people was the pastor who oversees the congregations in our circuit. A week later, the second of those people was the man who was, and still is, the chairman of my former congregation.
And my very close friend.
How we came to be friends, and how he reacted to my startling news, is an important, delightful story to tell.
In May of 2003, I received a note in the mail from a Ken Bush in Indianapolis. (That’s right, where I now live.) In the note, he said that he and his fiancee, Nancy, owned property outside of Port Hope, would be visiting in July, and asking what time our worship services are held. They had tried to worship with us the previous summer, but we had switched our service times that weekend because of events at the Port Hope Festival, and they arrived to find locked doors. They weren’t Lutheran, so visiting at the Methodist church was a satisfactory option.
Ken provided his email address. I sent him a message right away and we were off and running, emailing each other almost every day for awhile, then about every-other day.
Ken had been reared in the Christian Reformed branch of the faith, and Nancy had been Baptist. He started asking me theological questions.
We had as thorough and wonderful a theological conversation as one could ever imagine. Ken did not only listen to me, but did his own reading. He was impressed with Lutheran theology.
Besides talking theology, we got to know each other. And like each other. I invited him and Nancy to stay with Julie and me at the parsonage when they visited over Independence Day. They did, and this kicked off a close friendship, with no never-mind to their being way older than Julie (shush about my age).
They visited the next year on their wedding trip after they were married in October, 2004. They had intended to build a house on their lot at the time they retired, several years off, but a number of things caused them to move up the move up north. Nancy was a nurse, so she was able easily to find work, and Ken’s job allowed him to live away from Indy, but he had to give up his yearly stint as a railroad engineer during the Indiana State Fair, having become licensed when he was fifty.
The guy loves trains and railroads. He can tell you about every line of track around, until your, um, caboose gets sore.
In the fall of 2006, the Bushes moved to Port Hope, and in 2008 moved into the house they built.
They had begun attending an LCMS church in Indy and joined it in 2005. In Port Hope, they became active members of St. John. The friendship of the four of us continued to grow.
Port Hope is remote. On the hangnail of the Thumb of Michigan, it is a tiny village, in a sparsely populated county, on the way to nowhere. I had trouble finding pastors to fill in for me when I went on vacation. Ken had some experience filling in for pastors and he willingly led worship when I could not find a pastor, usually once a year.
The last Saturday in May, 2007, I was having chest pains. In the evening, I went to the hospital. Julie called Ken, telling him that I was being taken to Saginaw and asking if he would lead worship on Sunday. “Absolutely.” This is the kind of person Ken is, always striving to be faithful to the Lord and to his neighbor.
Though they now lived in Port Hope and we saw each other once or twice a week, Ken and I continued to email about every other day, sharing news and continuing to talk theology. We tried to go out to lunch once a month in what we dubbed TAPOTE. When he treated, it was Take A Pastor Out To Eat. When I paid, Pastor became Pal.
Enter 2013 and my being crushed by my gender dysphoria. By summer, I had a plan to retire in 2014. I now had to inform congregation leadership and LCMS officials of my plan and why I was retiring. Ken had become our congregation’s chairman. That made it easy to tell him first in Port Hope, which I wanted to do anyway.
We sat in my parsonage office, midweek, mid-afternoon. Nothing else was mid; my brain and heart were hot with anxiety. I told him that I needed to tell him something that I never wanted to have to tell him. I then proceeded to hem and haw for ten minutes, with a lot of crying mixed in. He prepared for the worst.
Finally, I began the way I would begin the dozens of times I would have this conversation with family, friends, and pastors, “What do you know about gender dysphoria?”
Ken listened intently. He had a few questions for clarification, but mostly listened. I reached the pinnacle—“I might have to transition if I am going to survive”—and that is when he dazzled me.
You gotta know few more things about Ken. He is a very conservative gentleman. He’s in his sixties. Yes, we were friends, but I was his pastor. The Lord used me to lead him to be a Lutheran. Now, I just told him the most out-of-left-field thing that he could never have imagined.
And when I asked why he was sitting so calmly after my shocking revelation, he summed it up with this: “It’s a matter of being versus doing.”
I thought my news would be the end of Ken and me, but he was able to recognize the physical malady aspect behind my gender dysphoria. He noted that I am not “doing” anything sinful—for example, I was not having sex outside of marriage, nor was I planning on leaving Julie—but working to help my “being,” to solve my physical malady, even if I were to transition.
I was so amazed at his reaction that I pressed him about it: “I thought for sure you were going to be angry. That you would find this whole thing laced with sin. That you might just walk out of my office and never come back.”
Stuff like that was my concern.
Nothing like that was his reaction.
He really got it. He really heard me. He really grasped the physical nature of my condition and that I was striving to move forward in a God-fearing manner.
Yes, he was very sad that I would be leaving in 2014, but we both knew we would continue to email. One of his kids lives in Indy, so Ken and Nancy would visit us when they visit him and his family. Indeed, they have done so, and always treat Julie and me to supper: Take A Pair Out To Eat.
Ken became a student of my condition. He has read some books and articles, along with everything that I write. He has become well-versed in a topic that used to be for him as mysterious and misunderstood as it is for the average American. And he is a serious student of God’s Word, a true theologian.
In 2014, I retired and Jule and I moved away. It’s funny: Ken and Nancy moved from Indy to Port Hope, and Julie and I moved from Port Hope to Indy.
But we didn’t move a bit in our friendship. Almost every-other day, I get a newsy email from Ken. I gladly load up my replies to keep him up-to-date with our goings on. In June, they will be visiting, and we will pick up where we always leave off. My transitioning has changed nothing in our love for each other. Oh, and lest I forget Nancy and Julie, their friendship grew to be as dandy as Ken’s and mine.
When our visit reaches the point where someone asks, “Where shall we eat?” I will likely request my favorite Chinese buffet. No one will argue.
Ken loves the psalms, so I close with the opening verse of Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Amen and alleluia!