Friday, February 8, 2013

Gordon I. Herzog's Day of Remembrance: Full Circle -- From St. Louis to Africa and Back!

by Rev. Stephen R. Parelli
Bronx, NY
February 8, 2013

Gordon Herzog, Other Sheep
board member,
Photo by Steve Parelli
Gordon Herzog was a founding director of Other Sheep and a member of the Other Sheep board since its inception in 1992 until his passing on January 29, 2013.  Since 2005, when I became the Executive Director of Other Sheep, I had the privilege of getting to know Gordon during my annual visits to St. Louis, staying days at-a-time in his home.

Gordon's humanitarian accomplishments were considerable.  He served as president, chairman or director of:  Council of Intercity Ministries, Grace Hill Council, Episcopal Church Foundation, Episcopal City Mission, and St. Louis Airport Interfaith Chaplaincy; and he was a founding director of Grace Hill Neighborhood Services, Charles Kilo Diabetes and Vascular Research Foundation, Missourians for Freedom and Justice, Water Tower North, and Other Sheep.

There was, evidently, in addition to Gordon's boardroom contributions, his personal one-on-one activism and the interest he took in others, especially in queer people like himself.

I'm talking about Adam Matthews, Gordon's hired help who cared for Gordon's yard, and helped around the house in other ways (photo at left, taken February 2).  Gordon had told Jose, who is my husband, and me about his "good looking" help, and the good work he did, but we had never met Adam.  The morning of Gordon's memorial service, Adam and I met for the first time.  Adam came over to watch Gordon's dogs while Gordon's son Jeff and I left to attend the memorial service.  Having flown in from New York the day before, I was staying at Gordon's house, my usual place-of-stay when in St. Louis.

Upon meeting -- there at Gordon's home in the front entrance -- and making our introductions, Adam, with quite a bit of excitement said, "You're Other Sheep!  Gordon talked about you and your husband and Other Sheep all the time!"

It felt good to hear, I must admit.  But Gordon wasn't talking up Other Sheep to Adam just because of his admiration for Jose and me (though Gordon was known to do that). He was talking Other Sheep because Adam is an openly gay high school student who,  like all of us who are gay, is empowered by meeting and knowing others just like us.  And because Adam had a spiritual side to him that he desired to nurture, Other Sheep, a faith-based ministry designed to encourage LGBT people of faith, would be of interest to Adam, so Gordon was sure.  "Every day Gordon would ask me if I had visited the Other Sheep website," Adam told me.

Tom Hanks, co-founder
 of Other Sheep, is a
author to The Queer
Bible Commentary:  He
wrote the section on
Romans and Hebrews
Adam sat for a while and talked.  He told me how Gordon had helped him immensely by directing him to a welcoming and affirming Episcopal church.  Adam, a Roman Catholic and gay, had become disillusioned with church, understandably so. Now he was happily at home in a church that validated him just as he is.  

Later that day, after returning from the memorial service and the reception that followed, Adam showed me the single volume Bible commentary The Queer Bible Commentary, a resource book Other Sheep distributes when funds permit.  Gordon had shown the book to Adam, and Adam was reading it.

Rev. Stephen Parelli, left, with
Adam Matthews
Photo by Steve Parelli
We talked some more and then I excused myself.  I had an appointment to keep and I needed to place a call to confirm it. An African theological graduate student, a straight ally, pursing his studies now in America and living in the St. Louis area, who learned of Other Sheep while in Africa from someone Jose and I had directly worked with while we were in Africa, had read on my Facebook that I was coming to St. Louis.  He emailed me and asked to meet.  I was exhausted, having slept little the previous two nights; Adam quickly agreed to drive when I asked if he would.  Over the phone the African theologian said he was more than glad to have Adam join in, and with that Adam and I were off to meet another "other sheep," this one from Africa, who told us during our meeting that he was positioning himself theologically, through education, to someday "explode!" with the message of inclusion.  Already he had made a stir back home in Africa.  As a student in an evangelical school, he had spoken out to professors and fellow-students alike for gay equality within the church.

The driveway to Gordon's home: 
The day after Gordon's
Memorial Service, a peaceful
white blanket of new fallen
Photo by Steve Parelli
It was a remarkable day, for me, this day of remembrance.  How better to remember Gordon's twenty years of service with Other Sheep than to begin the day by hearing Adam tell me personally, at Gordon's dinning room table, how Gordon had impacted his life.  And then, at the end of the day, with Adam, to visit a theological student from Africa whose life is dedicated to the study of God and full inclusion. 

Jose and I introduced Other Sheep to Africa in 2007.  It was Other Sheep's first venture outside of Latin America where Other Sheep started.  It was a bold step.  More daring than I realized at the time.  Gordon was there for us, supporting us, when Jose and I went to Africa, as was all the board of Other Sheep.  Now, on Gordon's day of remembrance, in Gordon's American city, I was in the home of an African who was greatly influenced by an Other Sheep activist in Africa.  And with me was Adam who Gordon helped personally along the path of spiritual nurturing. 

A type of "full circle," I would say:  Adam, the gay high school student who knew Gordon, the African "other sheep" young theologian, and myself, all geographically in the area where Other Sheep was legally formed, meeting on the day of Gordon's memorial service. Kind of a tribute to the legacy of Gordon and all the Other Sheep board of directors who, since 1992, have served with Gordon.

The day after Gordon's Memorial Service:  A view of the Missouri River,
the stretch of river where Gordon's home is located, easily identifiable
by the double bridge at the left, the bend of the river at the right,
and the two relatively narrow water ways that snake and cut in
and out of the land mass.
(After taking this photo, I did a Google Satellite overlook to
confirm the sighting I had made from the plane.)
Photo by Steve Parelli

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