Teens find refuge in third annual Re-You-Nite, a one-of-a-kind reconciling ministry for GLBTQ youth

By Lindsey Seavert   MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – A Saturday night snowstorm could not stand in the way of Romeo Kurtyka’s courage. Once inside Lake Harriet United Methodist Church, with snow swirling outside the windows, a hush fell over the room, as Kurtyka, 16, of Minneapolis, bravely stood before two dozen teenagers, uniquely himself with short turquoise hair, and a denim skirt. With a nervous smile, Kurtkya shared his story with his peers, detailing a time four years ago, when he told his parents who he felt he really was inside. “I am a dude,” Kurtya recalled telling them. “I remember telling my Dad he didn’t lose a daughter, he gained a son.” As a transgender male, Kurtya searches for opportunities to connect to the LGBTQ community, and found himself at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church’s third annual “Re-You-Nite” event, a reconciling and inclusive youth ministry experience, for 9th to 12th graders of all sexual orientations and gender identities. “I think it is a really safe space especially for those who believe in God and have felt shunned by some churches,” said Kurtkya. Lake Harriet UMC Pastor of Youth Ministry, Rev. Chris Carr, founded Re-You-Nite three years ago, and believes it is the only reconciling youth ministry event of its kind in the country. “As the Christian church, we have done a lot of breaking of things, this is our opportunity to claim where we have come from and where we are created from,” said Carr. Students from all backgrounds spent the afternoon first participating in a Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) workshop, “Storytelling for Action” by GLAAD facilitator Ross Murray. The teens then enjoyed music and prayer by the Christian hip hop artist, AGAPE (Dave Scherer), who has inspired hundreds of thousands of people with his ministry “Hip Hop Outreach.” “I felt it was an important event to support my friends, be there for them, while learning a lot of cool stuff,” said Zoe Johnson, an active member of the Lake Harriet United Methodist youth group who attended as a straight ally. Reverend M Barclay, the first openly non-binary transgender person to become a United Methodist deacon, served as a keynote speaker. Non-binary means Barclay identifies as neither male nor female but as gender neutral. Barclay—who uses singular “they” pronouns – shared with students the difficult road they encountered to serve the church community. Barclay initially came out as a lesbian woman, and said they first faced open discrimination because of sexual orientation. “God’s call remained,” said Barclay. “It is so hard to claim a space in the world that the world says doesn’t exist.” Barclay said during the ordination process, the governing body of the church attempted to remove them from ministry in a very public way, a process wrought with even more pain when Barclay came out again, not just as queer but transgender. “Barriers are inevitable. Sometimes they come from within because of what you have been taught, sometimes they come from the church when it is not its best self. The good news is you are never alone when facing whatever barriers come your way,” said Rev. Barclay. “Together we not only overcome barriers but we demolish them.” M serves as Director of enfleshed ministry today. “What I hope those participating is they hear and see and experience a Christian faith that says something different than what the narrative has been, that is a blessing and a gift to be LGBTQ in the midst of their creation, not in contrast to creation, but part of a holy creation. They can advocate for that in the world,” said Rev. Barclay. The message resonated with Will McKinley, 18, of Lakeville, who came to Re-You-Nite for the second year in a row looking for inspiration and ways to change church culture when it comes to accepting gay youth. He has since left a youth group that couldn’t accept his sexuality after he came out to them. “I would hear sermons where queer people were looked down upon and they would always say they would come from a place of love and acceptance, and I don’t think they knew what that meant,” said McKinley. “What I have learned is sometimes it is necessary to do hard things.” “That would be my message, it works out,” said Kathy Parker-Witzke, a new Lake Harriet United Methodist Church member who volunteered for Re-You-Nite with her wife of two years. “It’s okay to have those down points because that makes you stronger,” said Maria Parker-Witzke, who shared her own story of struggle with the teens. The Re-You-Nite event ended with reflection, song and communion, a high point for teens like Romeo Kurtkya, who has spent years searching for himself, for a space affirming of his gender identity. “It’s good they are letting people know God loves all, and all are safe here,” said Kurtkya.