Greeting card companies and the florist industry would never let us forget that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. In Minnesota, the group Minnesotans United for All Families will gather to celebrate Freedom to Marry Day at the Capital Hill in St. Paul. They support the belief that persons in same gender relationships should be allowed to be married. I can’t be there in person, but I’ll be there in spirit. My Aunt-in-Law, Pastor Anita C. Hill will be there. Yes, she is a woman, and a fully ordained pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is also in a committed relationship with another woman. And, she is from Mississippi.
Life is so much more interesting than fiction. The “South” is home to churches on every corner, birthplace of Jazz (New Orleans), Elvis, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Johnny Cash, and Blue Grass. It is also the birthplace of Pastor Anita C. Hill. Born in Louisiana in 1951, Anita witnessed the social upheaval as minorities fought for equal rights during the 1960s. Almost thirty years later, she experienced another kind of oppression as she was called into ministry with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Since I have an in, being her niece, I thought I’d interview her. Although I am biased, it is still an amazing story.
EE: So, when did you actually leave Mississippi?
Pastor Anita: Let’s see, in 1973, I was married in April and we moved to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. About a year after arriving, I fell in love with a woman. The campus pastor at the time kept me sane. I was welcomed at church and this was quite a different experience than the one I grew up with.
Was this what led to you being called into the ministry?
Well, yes. In 1981, I joined St. Paul Reformation Church and was working in outreach with the Lesbian and Gay population there. In 1983, I became Ministry Associate of St. Paul Reformation and was working with Wingspan (a ministry with on behalf of gay and lesbian people.)* Here is a video where Anita talks about the process of opening doors to the lesbian and gay populations*
So, then in 1993, when I was in Washington, D.C. with a Lesbian Gay Protest march, and had this vivid dream of being ordained in front of a congregation. So I went back to St. Paul and back to the seminary. Then I received a Masters of Divination in the spring of 2000. The congregation had set a goal in 1993, that they wanted me to serve as a pastor. So, in 2001, in front of one current bishop, three retired bishops, 200 clergy members and over 1,100 other attendees, I was ordained.
I know that this was an extraordinary thing for them to do. Can you explain what the process is and why this was so scandalous?
The Bishops’ office puts forth a list of names that the churches can choose from to appoint pastors. I was not on the list. We were committing an act of disobedience.
(This act of disobedience and the resulting consequences are documented in the movie, This Obedience, in 2003 by Aquaries films.)
So how many years did it take for the ELCA to recognize your ordination?
Nine years. In September of 2010, we were received as a member of the clergy. Then in 2012, the call was issued for me to serve with Reconciling Works.
Tell me about how Thabiso and Patricia came to live with you.
Janelle and I went down to San Salvadore in 2008 to find a sister parish to work with, and we met Patricia. She had fled xenophobic violence in South Africa, and was seeking asylum. While we were down there, we got a call that the realtor had accepted the bid on our house. We were talking about what to do with all this extra room, and thought, “What about a mother and child?” So, we began the process of trying to help. This was around Thanksgiving and by July of 2009, she had made it to Texas and was in an immigration detention center. We got her legal aid and she’s been here for three years now. And if that didn’t have God’s fingerprints all over it, I just don’t know what does.
Thabiso and Patricia currently live with GrammAnita and Ya-Ya Janelle. Their next immigration hearing is in October. This beautiful family continues to work for acceptance and openness every day. Sometimes, we hear stories that restore our faith in humanity. Sometimes we are blessed that they reside in our own family.
Minnesotans United for All Families has information on Freedom to Marry Day here.
Information on Reconciling Works can be found here.