Seven members of First Congregational worked meticulously, well into the afternoon Friday as they hung 100 intricate, ministerial stoles. Their work was for more than just an art project, though.
Shower of Stoles is a traveling exhibit of more than 1,000 religious garments donated by LGBT individuals who serve or have served in ministry but have been defrocked by the church for their sexual orientations. Martha Juillerat started the project when she stepped down from the Presbyterian Church in 1995 and came out, according to the project’s website, www.welcomingresources.org. She asked for other LGBT [people] to send in their stoles to display and received 80 within the first day. The next spring, she had 200, so the first display was held in 1996 in Albuquerque, N.M.
Over the years, clearly, the exhibit has grown. Now it is split up into pieces, and First Congregational is hosting the exhibit for the first time from May 3 to May 15. Member Vickie Spyhalski is one of the seven who helped hang the stoles, which took several hours.
“The purpose is really to show the role that LGBT people play in the church and their role in the ministry,” Spyhalski said.
First Congregational has 100 of the stoles on display. Many of them are coupled with the stories of the people who wore them and the struggles they faced by coming out. Those stories, Spyhalski said, are powerful.
“It’s very moving when you get to see them,” Spyhalski said. “I actually hung a stole of a man who died of AIDS who was a minister. When you hang a stole and you realize he’s no longer with us, really it is a very sacred thing.”