‘Shower of Stoles’ exhibit supports LGBT of faith

Published 9:15 am Friday, May 3, 2013

Aleta Christopherson arranges stoles for the Shower of Stoles exhibit at First Congregational Church. The exhibit, which supports the LGBT who are of faith, starts today and goes through May 15. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Aleta Christopherson arranges stoles for the Shower of Stoles exhibit at First Congregational Church. The exhibit, which supports the LGBT who are of faith, starts today and goes through May 15. — Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

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.

Stoles hang beneath the cross over the alter at First Congregational Church, part of the exhibit Shower of Stoles, that shows support those in the GLBT community of faith. The exhibit begins today and runs through May 15.

Stoles hang beneath the cross over the alter at First Congregational Church, part of the exhibit Shower of Stoles, that shows support those in the GLBT community of faith. The exhibit begins today and runs through May 15.

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 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.”

Members of the church voted whether to accept the issue, and the support was overwhelming.

“It passed by an overwhelming majority,” Spyhalski said.

The exhibit is open to the public, regardless of people’s views on LGBT issues. Spyhalski encourages people to see the project, read the stories and come to their own conclusions, as the church isn’t telling people how to make up their minds. The displays are much more than just colorful garments, too. They are a testament to the people who wore them, Spyhalski said.

Leaders of First Congregational Church will hold an opening service for the exhibit at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 5. The displays will be available for viewing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. through May 15.