A Lithuanian pastor married to a man: we look at homosexual relationships as a gift from God, we see the Holy Spirit in them
Original Article: https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/1737317/su-vyru-susituokes-lietuvis-pastorius-i-homoseksualius-santykius-ziurime-kaip-i-dievo-dovana-juose-matome-sventaja-dvasia
"We look at homosexual relationships as a gift from God, we see the Holy Spirit in those relationships. We are happy that LGBTQ people are completely accepted in our lives," says Steven Paulikas, a Lithuanian living in the USA and pastor of All Saints Parish, in an interview with the LRT.lt portal. The pastor notes that the sign that God is in this parish is that the parishioners accept everyone as they are.
S. Paulikas is a pastor of the Episcopal Church living in the USA, married to a man.
"I remember one grandmother brought her grandchildren, she said that it was very important for her grandchildren to see this event, to see how a priest can marry his beloved," smiles S. Paulikas.
In an interview with the LRT.lt portal, the pastor says that "God made us the way we are, and our task is to love - to love God, to love others with all our heart. If we do this, God is among us.” S. Paulikas also emphasizes that the voices of LGBTQ people are very important not only in society, but also in the spiritual world. Therefore, it is extremely painful when LGBTQ people are not accepted by their families. "It's very painful for LGBTQ people when family members don't accept them. This is perhaps the most painful thing we experience. This kind of thing happens so often in society that, I would say, it is almost like spiritual violence," reflects the pastor.
You are Lithuanian, but you have been living in the USA for a long time. Tell us your story, how did you get here?
- I was born in America. Although my father was born in 1945 in a refugee camp, my family emigrated to America, to the city of Detroit. I was born and raised there, later I lived in Lithuania for four years, I am a citizen of Lithuania, I am very satisfied with that.
In 2005, I decided to return to America, enter a priestly seminary and study to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church belongs to the Anglican Church family, but in America it is called Episcopal.
Our customs are a little different from the Church of England, our Church is quite open, we have women priests, bishops among us. We accept LGBTQ people, we value their experiences. The liturgy is very similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church, but the values are slightly different.
- You mentioned female celebrants, acceptance of the LGBTQ community. You are married to a man and you are a pastor. In Lithuania, a priest married to a man would probably get attention. As I understand it, the situation in the USA is different in your Church - both the Church and the community are more free?
- I would say so. I imagine that the situation in Lithuania would perhaps attract more attention, because there is not much of it in Lithuania. I decided to return to America so that I could live my life here in America, because it would not be possible in Lithuania.
My husband and I live in a parsonage next to the parish. The parish is very warm, it welcomed us. My husband Jesse is fully integrated into the life of the parish, I would say they love him very much. This spiritual community is very warm, it feels like God is here among us. One of the signs that God is really here is that love really grows and lives among us, that we accept everyone as we are. We read the Bible, we understand the Holy Scriptures in such a way that God made us what we are, that our task is to love - to love God, to love others with all our heart. If we do, God is among us.
- I remember reading one of your articles in which you told how after the Sunday service the parishioners congratulated you and your husband on the court's decision to recognize marriage equality in the United States.
- I came to our parish, which is called All Saints, in 2011. Then some of the parishioners didn't really know what they thought about me being gay, openly gay. But over time, after one or two years, people saw that I was their priest, their pastor. This is the most important thing. I am their priest, I am here to pray for them, to be among them every Sunday, like all other priests. I remember one grandmother brought her grandchildren, she said that it was very important for her grandchildren to see this event, to see how a priest can marry his beloved.
The parishioners were very happy that not only me, but also other LGBTQ people in our community got the right to legally marry. If one or two people in our community are lucky, then we are all lucky. They were happy for us. If something good happens to them, I'm happy too, even if it's not directly related to me. A very pleasant feeling. We have quite a few gay and lesbian couples in our parish, and I have consecrated their marriages myself. This is a great joy for me. (...) And our wedding took place here, in our parish, the bishop came, he was here and consecrated our marriage. Almost the whole parish came. I remember one grandmother brought her grandchildren, she said that it was very important for her grandchildren to see this event, to see how a priest can marry his beloved. I was very impressed by it.
I wonder if the community would support the same if it was not an Episcopal Church, but, for example, Catholic?
- I cannot really comment on the Roman Catholic Church, because I am not a Roman Catholic myself. They have their own customs and their own way of thinking, their own theology. But I know that there are several parishes here in New York that are very accepting of LGBTQ people. I don't know much about their position, what they think about marriage, I know it's not legal under their rules, but that doesn't mean that all LGBTQ people in New York don't have a place to go to church. In America we are a minority, the majority of people are Roman Catholic and evangelical - we are a little bit different in this respect.
- The Lithuanian bishops' conference has repeatedly called for same-sex partnerships not to be equated with family or marriage. We hear cases where LGBT people are rejected even in houses of worship, we heard priests calling LGBT people devil bearers, satanists, in league with Satan and the like. Do you see discussions in Lithuania? How do you feel when you hear that?
- I read the news, I closely monitor the situation in Lithuania. I can't really comment on the positions of other people and other Churches and their discussions - they have to talk and decide how God accompanies them. (...) People who are LGBTQ can't avoid it. I am gay, my friends can be lesbian, transgender, gay, bisexual... If people exist, if God made them the way they are, the question is what does the Church do with them, with us. If people exist, if God made them what they are, the question is what does the Church do with them, with us.
If we come to the door of the church and say we are here, the Church has to decide whether to accept us or not. This is a very clear question. If we are not accepted, we leave, or we try to stay and stay, but we would do so with the idea that we do not have the rights that everyone else has, that the official position is not acceptable. If you are an LGBTQ person, this is not the best feeling, because you yourself know that your spiritual path is important, precious, like everyone else's. Also, there are certain experiences of LGBTQ people that really show this and that about God. Jesus himself spent time with those people who were not accepted elsewhere. If you have experienced it yourself, then you understand this and that about Jesus, about the Gospel. I think the voices of LGBTQ people are very important not only in society but also in the spiritual world. Our voices say something about God, about who he is. And about love. Our relationships, our feelings, show something new about love. I am happy about that. This is a sign that the Holy Spirit is doing something now, in these times. This is good news.
- I will ask again about the Catholic Church, but it is interesting to hear your opinion about what happened in Lithuania. And you mentioned that if the Church does not accept you, there is a choice to leave it or to do something different. Some time ago, as the debate escalated, some believers in Lithuania decided to leave the Church and refuse baptism. This is how the faithful reacted to the position of the priests regarding the Istanbul Convention and to the words directed against homosexual people. When listening to the speeches of the priests, some people put human rights and the teaching of the Church on two different sides. You have never felt this opposition in your personal life?
- I express my opinion and talk about my experience, what I have seen in the Church during my life. I am 100 percent for the Partnership Law in Lithuania, I think it is a good step forward for Lithuanian families. I think that the voice from the Church that would support Lithuanian LGBTQ people and families is sorely lacking in Lithuanian society.
It is very important for a believer to hear that there are priests who support you. Not just because it is a good or acceptable thing in some societies, but because according to my religion, according to the Holy Scriptures, I support those people who do not have all the rights in society. Of course, in my childhood I was not familiar with any gays or lesbians, there were no other students or teachers in my school who spoke openly. I had the opportunity to meet LGBTQ people for the first time when I entered the university.
And the situation in America and Lithuania is completely different now, I think this is a very good thing. If I had had these opportunities when I was young, a schoolboy, I would have been happy. Even in Lithuanian society, it can be seen that young people have a different attitude towards LGBTQ people than older people. This is normal. We're used to it - if you're not LGBTQ yourself, you have friends who are, you understand more than your grandparents. But I would like to say one thing to those people who maybe don't know what to think about their children, their grandchildren, who are LGBTQ. Children really want to maintain a relationship with their family, it is very important to love your children no matter what they are. If your child tells you that he or she is LGBTQ, then he or she wants to be in a relationship with you. Not accepting your children is like spiritual abuse. A lot of Lithuanians went through it. It is very painful for LGBTQ people when family members do not accept them. This is perhaps the most painful thing we experience. This kind of thing happens so often in society that I would say it is almost like spiritual violence. Not accepting your children is like spiritual abuse. A lot of Lithuanians went through it. No matter what tradition you are, it is important for priests and pastors to say something for those people who have already experienced such spiritual violence.
- I have also heard of cases where believing homosexual people are afraid to go to church, talk to priests, they are worried about the attitude that they will be rejected. Can it be easier for an LGBTQ person to access a priest when the Church is more accepting?
- What a horror that a child could be afraid to come to his priest and say something about his life. I remember, I have experienced quite a lot when a young person comes to me and says that they are LGBTQ, they want to talk, to make a strategy, how to tell their parents, their family about it. Almost every time I say, "Of course God loves you, thank you for saying such important things, let's pray that your family will accept you." Hardly 100%. those parents accept their children - maybe it will be a little painful, maybe they don't really understand, but in the end they accept their children. It is hard for me to even imagine how painful it would be if a child could not come to his priest to speak. It is not a good thing to fear your pastor, your priest, just because you are who you are.
- And after the Pope's words that "homosexual people have the right to have a family. They are God's children", the hierarchs of the Lithuanian Catholic Church repeat that same-sex couples cannot be considered a family, the Church opposes the Partnership Law.
And here in some other countries we have seen examples of the Church apologizing to LGBTQ people. In your opinion, can we call the Lithuanian Catholic Church conservative? Why is that?
- I cannot say much about the Lithuanian Catholic Church. I can say that baptizing a child, regardless of who his parents are, is a sacred thing. I personally felt the power of the Holy Spirit standing there with the baby in my arms. God does not care who the parents are, whether two women or two men. God loves that child, God loves that family.
God does not care who the parents are, whether two women or two men. God loves that child, God loves that family. Living in a family is a miracle, but it can be difficult. Families, whether LGBTQ or otherwise, need spiritual support, a spiritual community. It hurts me a little to think that LGBTQ families in Lithuania lack this, lack community. I would like to say that Lithuania is not only a Catholic country, there are many religions in Lithuania. My godson is a Lutheran, people of various religions live in Lithuania and this is a good thing. The situation in the USA is a little different - there are so many Churches, there is no one Church that prevails, so that the values of one Church would influence politics very much.
- Then it is easier to find a Church and community close to you?
- It could be, yes, I think so. In addition, we know that in Lithuania, as well as in America, young people do not go to church the way their parents or grandparents did. As time passes, the numbers decrease. I think churches need to pay attention to this. What do young people need, spiritually speaking? They need values. If we somehow think that there are those people, but they shouldn't be, then those values don't really go with the experience of young people.
- It is probably quite difficult to adapt to the needs of young people, values, what they expect from the Church. How are you adapting to what young people need? What other values do young people expect from the Church?
- On Sunday, eight new people came who had never been to our parish before, all of them were young people. This means that young people are looking for spiritual community just like everyone else. That's missing. It is not a good thing to fear your pastor, your priest, just because you are who you are. I think that if they understand that they are at least accepted, that their values go at least somewhat with the values of the Church or the community, they could find their place in that community. This does not mean that young people do not want to belong to the Church at all - they may not find what they are looking for.
- To what extent should the Church intervene in these matters? Should the Church oppose partnerships? As far as I understand, your Church does not see the issue of partnership as a threat to traditional or Christian values?
- No, we even call for the Partnership Law, we very actively advocate for women's rights, for the rights of LGBTQ people, maintain relations with politicians, try to influence their decisions. I would think that it is important for the Church to tell its values, to try to influence public opinion. There are many things where our voice is very important. What one or another Church says, I cannot say. I can say about what my Church says.
We are for the fact that all people feel safe not only in our Church, but also in society, so that all people have rights in our society. We call for it, we say that it is very important even in our spiritual life.
- In Lithuania, it is repeated that, according to the teaching of the Church, homosexual relations are a sin. As I understand it, your Church has a different teaching. How do you rate such statements?
- We look at homosexual relationships as a gift from God, we see the Holy Spirit in those relationships. We are happy that LGBTQ people are completely accepted in our lives, we have open LGBTQ people - priests, bishops, they are in our Church and we are happy about that. This is our theology.
- And how should believers behave when the Church hierarchs do not recognize their relationship as a family, and do not want to recognize love? What do you think would lead to greater dialogue and understanding between the Church and the LGBTQ community?
- This is such an individual question - everyone has to decide how they should act if they want to turn to the Church, how to sanctify their relationship, what kind of family to have. This is a personal question. But I am glad that if the family so decides, in our Church they can turn to us, be full members in our community. Other parishioners, other people in the Church look at the LGBTQ family like any other family. This is a very beautiful thing. If you haven't seen it for yourself, I'm sorry. If you see how children in our parish play with each other, it doesn't matter to those children whether their friend has two fathers or two mothers, they are just playing. Also, adults don't pay attention to it either. We have a spiritual community, we know that we are Christians, Christian love is felt here. This is a very beautiful thing. Like I said, I wish all people could see a picture like this.
By the Rev. Steven D. Paulikas, rector of All Saints’ Church, Episcopal Relief & Development board member. Find the article online here.
Episcopal Relief & Development’s support for Ukrainians displaced by war feels personal to me. I’m the rector of All Saints’ Church in Brooklyn and a proud member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s board. But I myself am only one generation removed from war and displacement in Europe. The church’s assistance to my family then made possible my life today—just like how our response today will shape the lives of millions in the decades to come.
In 1944, my grandfather disappeared from the Lithuanian village where my family lived. The way the story was told to me, one day he just didn’t come home from work, and that was that. It was during the German occupation of Lithuania, and men from neighboring villages had been disappearing for a few months. Rumors were that they were captured and forced to work for free for the German army–in other words, they were enslaved.
My grandmother was left with three small girls, alone at home. The war was not going well for Germany, and the Soviets were closing in from the east. As terrible as the German occupation had been—I was told plenty of stories about that, too—the last time the Soviets were in charge in 1940-41, a different kind of terror had prevailed. My grandmother understood that the Soviet reoccupiers would most likely accuse her of colluding with the Germans because of my grandfather’s absence. There was already news of thousands of people in eastern Lithuania in similar situations being deported to Siberia or executed, so she made the brave decision to take her daughters and flee, leaving behind everything she had ever known, and cast herself out into a completely uncertain future. She was one of roughly 50,000 Lithuanians who fled our homeland during this period.
There are so many more stories. They were on the last train out of the country. They saw the tracks being destroyed behind them. They hitchhiked hundreds of miles. One night they slept in a barn during an air raid. For whatever reason—God, good luck, smart thinking—they made it to safety behind Allied lines. My grandfather reunited with his wife and children, and my father was born in November 1945.
My family spent five years in what was called a “displaced persons camp” along with almost one million other migrants from Eastern Europe. The camp, near the Bavarian city of Günzberg, was my father’s home for his entire early childhood. My uncle, who was also a child in the same camp, used to tell me how much he looked forward to Easter, because it was one of the few times a year he got to eat meat. But one year, he discovered a long, pinkish tail in the Easter stew—and realized that all this time, they’d been eating rat meat.
In 1950, a Roman Catholic priest in Detroit included my family on a list of names of refugees he would personally sponsor for resettlement in the United States. In doing so, the priest and his parish took full financial and legal responsibility for my family, pledging that they would find them a place to live, jobs and help integrate them into American society. My father used to talk about the journey by ship across the Atlantic. He said he remembered being the only person on board who wasn’t seasick the whole time and that all the other passengers gave him their dessert.
The six members of my family settled in a two-bedroom apartment above a bar on the west side of Detroit. My grandfather took a job as a janitor at a General Motors factory, where he worked long enough to earn a pension and health insurance for his family. My grandmother cleaned houses. One of her clients was kind enough to put index cards with the English words for furniture and other items around the house. My grandfather never spoke a word of English in his life; my grandmother, because of the strange language instruction she had, spoke a form of English that was basically just a string of nouns.
These people were my heroes growing up, and they still are. I am proud to be the child of a refugee. I have never accomplished anything half as impressive as what they did, and I know that the stories I was told are really just a little glimpse into the traumas they actually survived.
But the lesson they taught me that lives inside me—the knowledge that is part of my inheritance–is this: it is never finished. Against all odds, they refused to give up. They abandoned their lives multiple times, and each time, the only way they could move forward was by having the faith that there would be a new life on the other side. Death and resurrection, death and resurrection, death and resurrection.
So when Jesus says in John 19:30, “it is finished,” he knows it’s not the final word. It’s just this particular life that’s over, but another one awaits. To believe this with him is to be a Christian.
More than 70 years after the church offered my family a new life in the United States, All Saints’ Church is proud to be sponsoring a refugee family from Afghanistan for resettlement in New York. Together with other Episcopal parishes, we’ve raised money, recruited volunteers from inside and outside our church communities and found a voice of advocacy for displaced people. We’re discovering new depths of our faith in the process and learning strength and resilience from the family with whom we are working.
We also know how many more vulnerable people around the world have been displaced since we started this work, including those who were forced to leave Ukraine. When I hear accounts of violence from Ukrainians, sometimes I simply sit and weep, wondering how this could still be happening so many years after my family experienced the same thing. Then, I’m reminded that through Episcopal Relief & Development, my church is going places where I can’t, helping to ease the burden both of Ukrainians displaced in their own country and those who have fled abroad. I remember stories of acts of Christian kindness offered to my family and my own burden is lessened just a little because of the knowledge that Episcopal Relief & Development is part of Christ’s presence in the midst of suffering.
Whenever you meet a refugee, remember this: they have died and risen again. The only reason they are still here is because they had faith that when the life they loved or hated or were indifferent to nonetheless came to an end, that it wasn’t finished for them. May their faith be our own.