BRONX, NEW YORK. STEPHEN PARELLI. OCTOBER 20, 2013. The following is written in memory of Rev. J. C. Michael Allen (1927-2013), Other Sheep board member from 2002 – 2011.
Our commissioning to the work of Other Sheep occurred about seven months after we had been called by the board to work as staff volunteers for Other Sheep as Executive Director (me, full time) and as Coordinator for Africa and Asia (Jose my significant other, part time). At what point in time the commissioning service had been planned, I don’t recall. What I do remember is my feeling a bit strange about the whole idea of a commissioning service, especially sense so much of my thoughts on God was still in flux.
For the board, and for Michael Allen, this commissioning service was of great importance to each of them, so I observed. I could sense their faith in my call and their faith in the mission of Other Sheep.
I had told the board at my interview for the job that I was never more certain of God’s call on my life than I was in accepting the position of Executive Director of Other Sheep. That much I knew, but not much more. I felt certain I had been somehow fitted for this task at this time, and with Jose as my significant other who shared my excitement, calling and gifts – well, Jose and I were ready to go. If nothing else, we had each other. But this commissioning service . . . well . . . I had to somehow manage my doubtful feelings about its earth-while significance because of my own theological misgivings.
Those attending from the Other Sheep board and J. C. Michael Allen who gave the commissioning charge – there was something special about these folk from Missouri. Both straight and gay, most of them my senior by fifteen to twenty years, gave the impression that something real good was happening here. I was so unsure of so many things theologically, that the commissioning service seemed irrelevant, if not irreverent. However, these folks – Michael Allen and the rest – they had a sense that we were in the right place at the right time.
This much I knew: I was fortunate, and humbled, to be in their midst. Their collective years of experience and maturity gave me comfort. Each one had a remarkable personal history of achievement carved out by deliberate choices and years of sacrificial service. The commissioning hands that touched us (Jose and me) and the heads that were bowed in prayer on our behalf were moved by a spirit of love for queer individuals just like Jose and me. For years, this LGBT-friendly spirit had enveloped them with an energy that moved them to do the work. And now Jose and I were joining in the work with them. We were to be an extension of them; their arms reaching out to the LGBT world through us. In the seven years between Michael’s commissioning charge to us in the Spring of 2006 and his passing in September of 2013, Jose and I have worked Other Sheep in more than twenty countries.
Michael, whose whole life was spent ministering to the marginalized, was just as proud as ever to be a part of our small commissioning service, so it seemed to me. I saw his commitment to us, and the pride he took in the Other Sheep ministry of gay equality, and the kind of man he was, and I was thankful for his having charged us to our call and work with Other Sheep. Michael – who himself had, at one time, entertained his own doubts about God – was indeed a great man, and was so well fitted for our gay-equality-fighting times, and he touched Jose and me with his legacy and with his mid-western sense of “you guys can do it.”