By Rebekah Lodos
Dancer, artist, spiritual coach, wife, pastor—the list of roles Amy Shoemaker moves in seems endless. A Kansas City native, she got her degree in theater from Drake University and attended seminary at Pacific School of Religion, Berekely, before making her home in San Francisco for 10 years. There, she worked odd jobs in tech, established a spiritual direction practice and met her wife, Carly. But her dream was always to be an artistic minister; a Christian leader who incorporates movement, dance, and improvisation into spiritual formation. She found that opportunity last year at Broadway Church, one of only 20 (out of 2,000) Kansas City churches that are affirming of queer leadership. She and Carly have been here for almost three years.
We spoke with Shoemaker about her journey, her worship, and what it’s like being a queer, female pastor in Kansas:
I grew up very aware of economic status because we went to church in Kansas City, KS, and I was a kid with eyes. I could see the difference between the houses in our neighborhood and the houses in that neighborhood. I could tell that they were smaller. I could tell that they were not as well cared for. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.
I had a very strong sense of what was fair; what was right and what was wrong. And I’ve always had a really strong sort of moral compass about things. Luckily, I had parents who have really encouraged me to trust my intuition about stuff.
I grew up in the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. The church itself has no creed but Christ. It’s not top down. Every congregation decides for themselves what their beliefs are, and the teachings of Christ is the thing that bring us together, and the ritual that brings us together as communion. So, your responsibility is to study, and think critically, and ask questions, and really include your own experience in your interpretation of the text. It’s like this very postmodern sort of existence.
I hadn’t seen anyone dance in worship before I danced in worship. I hadn’t seen a woman preach until I preached as a 14-year-old, so I’ve never been someone who was afraid to do something I’d never seen. So, if there’s one sort of hallmark of my ministry, it’s that I’m not afraid to do the things that I haven’t seen before.
I had no idea that the things that were completely normal and natural to me were earth-shattering to other people. I took a contemporary ethical problems class where we focused on same sex marriage, capital punishment, reparations for slavery and abortion. In the class with me was the president of the campus Republicans. Oh yeah, and this was during the Bush administration. It was insane. I was just like, how can we both be coming out of a Christian context? How can we both be looking at the same scripture?
When I was in middle school, my mom said to me she couldn’t tell if I was talking to a girl or a guy when I was on the phone with a friend, because I talked to everyone the same. And that’s really the sort of best description of my sexual orientation that I’ve heard, because I don’t experience gender the way that other people talk about. I don’t experience it as a binary. I don’t make assumptions about a person based on their gender expression. I’ve worked really hard not to make assumptions, and this is done by just engaging with the person as a person. Your gender is a detail of who you are. I know it’s not an indicator of personality. It’s not an indicator of character.
My friend Claire was the first person to say to me, “I think if you fell in love with a woman, you would be with her.” Everyone assumed that I was straight my whole life, and I was like, “OK, whatever.” I wasn’t that interested in dating, so I didn’t.
I’m very girly, I love lipstick and dresses and sparkly things and I’m completely unapologetic about that, which is also hard being a minister. For a long time, I felt like I had to dress down, cover up, be sort of boring and modest. Then eventually I was just like, “No, I’m an artist first.”
There are days when it’s really isolating. Even when I’m in a room full of clergy, I still feel different because I’m an artist and creative, and because I’m queer. Then I’ll go to Woody’s and I’ll be with queer people, but I’m weird because I’m a pastor.
It’s like I’m constantly coming out. I’m coming out as queer to people who think I’m straight, and I’m coming out as a spiritual leader to people who don’t know that that’s my job, and it’s exhausting, honestly, to constantly be explaining myself and justifying my existence.
It’s easier to be Christian here than it was in San Francisco because so much of San Francisco is sort of like post religious, and really anti-Christian. So much of San Francisco, especially the queer community, was very anti-church. It’s easier to be Christian here, but it’s harder to be queer. That’s the trade-off. In my process of deciding to move here, a friend of mine said, “It’s a question of which grief do you choose?” You know? It’s going to be hard either way. It’s just hard in different ways.
I met this lesbian couple last night at the bar and I was just like … I don’t know, they just weren’t on my level of experience of the world. And I was just like, OK, well, you’re a same sex female couple and I’m in a same sex couple, but that’s about like the end of our commonality.
I have a really complex spiritual life and a very complex emotional life, and it’s taken a lot of work personally to move out of any shame about who I am. And so I still did have to deal with a lot of that. It’s more about classism and I definitely have internalized homophobia that I’ve had to work through, as well as like a lot of class stuff — that Midwestern blue collar work ethic. I will work until I’m sick. I don’t have an off button; you play when the work is done. I had to really deconstruct that.
When I first came out, my parents directly asked me not to have children if I was with a woman. I mean, that’s different now, but that was the initial sort of knee jerk reaction from them. In my discussions with Carly about whether or not we want to be parents, I’ve discovered that have a little bit of internalized homophobia. It’s still weird to me to see two moms with a kid. I just don’t have a lot of experience with that. None of my friends in San Francisco had kids, and here … here’s here. So, I follow a few Instagram accounts of same sex parents, you know, just to get that imagery in front of my face on a regular basis, so it becomes like more normalized.
There’s a level of courage that it takes for me to just get out of bed and be a person in the world that a lot of people will never have to access for themselves because they’re served by this society. They’re in a Christianity that serves them. And I don’t have that privileged or that luxury. Yes, I am a white woman and I pass for straight, so that opens a lot of doors, for sure — don’t get me wrong. At the same time the things that I pass for are not my reality. And so that is really strange, because I pass for middle to upper middle class, but my tax bracket is not that, you know? It’s that weird cultural, socioeconomic literacy that is its own privilege, but also this really weird sort of dual existence. I’m very aware of how I’m perceived, because people’s interaction with me is rooted in their perception of me.
Rebekah Lodos is a Londoner in Kansas City. She’s the Editor in Chief of Chalk Magazine, a writer for Catcall, and a lover of mustard.
Justina Kellner is a Kansas City portrait and wedding photographer with a passion for creativity. You’ll find her hands in every possible medium of the arts including digital and film photography, painting, drawing, music, and even a touch of ballet. As a well grounded Capricorn, she also manages an online closet of upcycled trendy clothing, because everything should be recycled – change her mind.