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  WINDY CITY TIMES

MCC elder talks Cajun roots, faith and lesbian polyamorous relationship
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2017-12-13

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Rev. Elder Rachelle Brown's journey toward the ministry and the Metropolitan Community Church ( MCC ) began in her early thirties, when she was looking for a spiritual connection after many years away due to the rejection she faced after coming out as a lesbian while in college. She decided to enter an MCC church ( while living in St. Louis ) for the first time and instead of being disappointed she was amazed at what she witnessed that day—a denomination that blesses and celebrates everyone.

"After moving to St. Louis in 2000, I experienced my first Pride in 2001 and stopped at an MCC of Greater St. Louis vendor table," said Brown. "It was in MCC that I came out to God, as well as others. My background is Catholic, Charismatic and then Pentecostal. MCC has the mixture of traditions that allowed me to find my own expression of faith and spirituality."

Brown ( who is of Acadian Cajun ancestry ) grew up in a small, rural community in Vermillion Parish, Louisiana called Indian Bayou and lived in her maternal great-grandparent's farmhouse with her parents and sister most of her childhood.

"Acadians originated in France—we were mostly poor farmers who followed the French explorers to Canada trying to escape peonage," said Brown. "The British expelled my ancestors from the region between 1755 and 1763, an event known as Le Grand Derangement ( the Great Upheaval ). People were packed into ships and sent south. About half died from smallpox and other diseases. Many, including my ancestors, traveled south on the Mississippi to Louisiana."

Brown explained that her family traveled on a pilgrimage when she was young to Grand-Pre in Nova Scotia to see the place where her exiled ancestors' names are listed. She noted that over time Cajun culture, and especially the language, was lost by many due to English language only schools, however, books like "Clovis Crawfish" and the Cajun cultural revolution of the '80s has made people aware of her people's history. Brown said many of her older family members kept the Cajun language alive including her mother's parents and paternal great-grandfather.

"Being Cajun is a way of life, a state of mind and a sense of humor," said Brown. "I enjoy crawfish, spicy food, Community Coffee in the red bag, Steen's pure sugar cane syrup, Boudin sausage, rum and fish on Friday. There is something about listening to old-time Cajun music, zydeco or swamp pop that brings a smile—even on a freezing Chicago day. No matter where I am—faith, family and laissez les bon temps rouler [are] on my mind and in my blood."

As early as her teen years, Brown was thinking about attending Bible College but those plans were put on hold due to a work-study opportunity at the College of the Ozarks' ( in Point Lookout, Missouri ) radio station that steered her into a media career during her 20s and early 30s. She got her BA in mass media at the College of the Ozarks, and her MA in communications from Southwest Missouri State University ( now Missouri State University ).

After Brown graduated, she worked at radio stations with many formats including contemporary Christian, alternative rock and at NPR ( mostly in Missouri ) where her duties included doing public speaking engagements and covering concerts and festivals. She worked in production and as the music director and later for a marketing agency.

While working in marketing, Brown sought out a new spiritual home that would embrace her whole self and that is how she came to the MCC in St. Louis that fateful day.

As Brown immersed herself in the MCC church over the next few years, including spending time with queer theologian Rev. Dr. Bob Goss, she decided to enter the ministry to better help and give hope to young LGBTQ people trying to live a life of faith.

She received her Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis and, while there, began her chaplaincy work focused on perpetrators of domestic violence. Brown was ordained in 2007 and in 2008 she moved to Chicago to work on her Ph.D. in theology at Chicago Theological Seminary.

The MCC Governing Board elected Brown to be interim moderator in October 2016; she will serve until the next General Conference in 2019. An "elder" is a name given to ministers who are highly esteemed, respected and looked to for wisdom. The Council of Elders and Governing Board affirmed her roles as elder and she was installed in January 2017.

Additionally, since this is the first interim for MCC, some in the denomination consider her status as an elder and interim moderator revolutionary due to her, what some may call, unique family structure.

When Brown met married lesbian couple Michelle Jestes and Dama Elkins-Jestes about seven years ago, she found her soulmates in the two women. They embarked on a relationship together ( which includes raising their child, Ayden ) that they call "a couple of three," and currently reside in a Chicago suburb.

This "couple of three" goes back to Brown's childhood projects with her father.

"When asking for a few things he would jokingly say, hand me 'a couple of three' of whatever I was handing over," said Brown. "As our family considered how to refer to each other, the language of polyamory is always forming, so we decided a couple of three best described the closed nature of our covenant and commitments. We have all learned so much each year together. It is not simple to be out, or even engage in conversations with traditional couples. I learned recently that when I say 'family,' some assume we are blood relatives.

"Back in the early 2000s when I was coming out as a lesbian, I did not know anyone that would be considered polyamorous. It has been a journey—one that MCC allowed space for me to discover and live in. Some congregants say nothing; others begin to talk more openly about their own relationships, both monogamous and non-monogamous. We are fully committed and in sacred covenant to each other, honoring the complexity of the relationships we represent. I personally believe it is the most authentic and loving way for me to be in relationship, while aware that it is not possible or even advisable for others."

MCC celebrates queer holy days, including honoring significant persons and events such as Transgender Day of Remembrance, World AIDS Day, IDAHO/T, Pride, National Coming Out Day and other specific cultural days or months.

"While I was the interim pastor of aChurch4Me MCC in the Rogers Park neighborhood, it was such an honor to serve such a diverse, artistic and spiritual community of faith," said Brown. "I embrace the complexity of my ethnicity, cultural heritage, gender, orientation, class, education and vocation. Our conversations and work together all have different starting points, yet we share in the need for liberation of our body, spirit and mind."


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