By KJ Philp, Oct. 23, 2014. Back to Hall of Fame Home Page.
“God is still speaking in Arizona,” is the way Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim, Rebel & Divine United Church of Christ’s founding pastor and executive director, summarized his efforts and experiences in 2014.
In addition to preaching on Sunday mornings, Dirrim teaches sex education, meets with LGBTQ parents, feeds homeless youth and supports youth in crisis.
“Ministry is not my job, it’s my life,” he said. “I just hope when all is said and done, that my life will have made a difference.”
According to Dirrim, his call into the ministry as a vocation was discerned during the height of the AIDS crisis and he always knew his calling was to be a “voice for reconciliation” between the church and the LGBTQ community.
“I am called to do what our historic Jesus did and disagree with many of the religious leaders of the day while loving people (very different from himself) into wholeness,” he said.
Rebel & Divine UCC’s mission is working for the health and wholeness of youth and young adults, and Dirrum said listening to the youth and giving them a voice is a critical part of that.
“I’m proud to give our youth voice in places where they are either uncomfortable or unable to speak for themselves,” he said. “I’ve been working on their behalf for marriage equality, transgender rights, reproductive rights, pro-choice legislation, immigration reform and student debt reform.”
According to Dirrim, one of the most moving experiences followed Arizona Rep. John Kavanagh introduction of legislation that made the transgender community second-class citizens and several of the church’s trans youth asked Dirrim to go to the capital and represent them.
“Beyond our success defeating these bills, I became a better person by simply getting to know Arizona’s transgender community,” he said. “I’m honored to have been at the capital hugging, listening, praying and fighting for my new friends. It was during this time I was able to articulate my own identity as a gender queer person and pastor. Something my youth continue to encourage me to share with the general public.”
Dirrim said his ministry entails a lot more of me than “traditional church settings” and added that a typical day may include driving a physically assaulted youth to the emergency room, supporting a suicidal youth through intake at a behavioral hospital, talking about eating disorders or addiction with struggling youth, empowering students by visiting them on campus or serving a full dinner to every hungry youth who walks through our door.
“There are many churches focused on salvation and the afterlife for these at-risk youth,” he said. “I’m focused on their needs and inspiring them to make a difference with their lives today.”
Dirrim said his greatest feat is not only the fact Rebel & Divine UCC exists after three years, but that it is becoming more stable with each passing month.
“I’ve never been more proud of anything I’ve done,” he said. What I can’t deny is that we are making a difference in the lives of the youth we serve.”
Web-Exclusive Q&A with Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim
Echo: You’ve rallied in support of various causes throughout your career, would you recap some of the highlights or causes you have been actively involved in?
Dirrim: In 2005, I was in Atlanta’s Georgia World Conference Center when the United Church of Christ’s General Synod voted (the first mainline denomination to do so) to support marriage equality. With jubilation I jumped to my feet and embraced a male friend sitting next to me. Little did we know as we quickly kissed that FOX Cable News was filming us. For an entire weekend FOX included our kiss in their news loop about the story. I’m proud to say the only time I’ve been featured on FOX cable news, I was embraced in a same sex kiss.
Echo: How does it feel knowing Arizona is on the verge of legally recognizing same-sex marriage?
Dirrim: I’ve known faithfully that marriage equality would come. It’s the right thing to do and love and light always prevail over fear and darkness. But I never imagined it would happen in my lifetime. We’ve come a long way in the last 25 years!
When I think about it, I shed joyful tears. This is a huge step toward equality. There is a validation of our worth that touches our souls within this sacred and one day soon state sanctioned institution. It is also a tipping point for our cultural norms. Underneath marriage equality there is an understanding that discrimination against the LGBTQ community will no longer be tolerated. We still have work to do, but we’ve come a long way and it’s time to celebrate.
I have officiated gay weddings as an ordained pastor within the United Church of Christ. While they’ve been recognized in the church I’m proud they may soon be recognized by our state as well. A lesbian couple once shared with me how after people learned of their civil union they would often say “cool.” But after they were legally married in California, the same people would say “congratulations.” That is a significant difference showing the place marriage has within our social and cultural constructs. Every LGBTQ person deserves the same rights, privileges, and standing associated with marriage. I’m overjoyed this day will soon be dawning here. Every child in Arizona will finally be able to grow up knowing they can love whomever they will, without penalty.
I have already received a couple requests to perform gay weddings when they become legal here. I hope to be joyfully exhausted the week following the announcement.
(Editor’s Note: Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim performed countless wedding at the Maricopa County Clerk of the Superior Court’s office as well as Rainbows Festival in the days following this interview. He can be reached at pastor@RebelDivineUCC.org.)
Echo: Tell us something about you and your work that our readers don’t know.
Dirrim: I would guess your readers would be surprised to learn many of the youth think of me as their gay, gender-queer minister “Dr. Ruth.” Sex education is a primary topic in this ministry and my religious tradition (the UCC and UUA joined forces to create the age appropriate “Our Whole Lives” sex education curriculum).
I teach the Christian sexual ethic that our sexual encounters are a gift and should be both mutual and just. Depending on the conversation I may also discuss hygiene for passive partners in anal sex, consent and/or how to live as a newly tested HIV positive young adult. More often than not, I’m teaching the basics to youth who have been sexually active for some time. It’s not uncommon for them to freak out at some point when they realize how at risk they are to HIV and STDs they thought they had protected themselves from. Many of these youth have also been sexually abused. The frank conversations about being sexual beings are needed to address the myriad of ways the ripples from those experiences continue to affect their lives.
Echo: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Dirrim: Being a perfectionist in the ministry can be a difficult thing. Rev. Lois Mueller told me once that my ministry might benefit from learning that “sometimes good is good enough.” Working with at risk youth and young requires constantly juggling a number of things and rarely, if ever, do I find perfection.
Echo: What’s the best advice you could pass on to others?
Dirrim: Believe in yourself. If anyone has ever told you that you were worthless or unworthy, THEY WERE WRONG. It doesn’t matter if it was a parent or a pastor. You are worthy, you are loved, you deserve a life well lived!
Echo: Of all the things you are involved with, what do you find the most fulfilling?
Dirrim: Knowing suicidal youth and young adults have thought of me and trusted me enough to call when they were literally ready to pull the trigger. Being thought of as an agent of hope in those darkest moments for our LGBTQ youth make all the sacrifices worth it. I’m profoundly fulfilled.
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