I was born an African and British Subject in 1960 in Southern Rhodesia in the Province of Matabeleland in Kwabulawayo, a Sindebele word meaning “Place of Slaughter.” Our neighbors to the South were embroiled in systemic Apartheid, Desmond Tutu had been ordained a Priest in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and Nelson Mandela was leading the fight against racism and injustice and would soon be banished to Robben Island as prisoner 46664.
I neither knew of these events at the time, nor comprehended the historical significance of these times until many years later after a journey that took me deeper into the African continent as a counter insurgent (76418813 BG) with the South African Defense Force; (Propoganda at the time: “Nasionale Diensplig moet beskou word as ‘n geleentheid vir elke jong Suid-Afrikaner om lewenservaring op te doen, wat nerens anders verkry kan word nie. Dit is ook ‘n voorreg om militer opgelei te word om ‘n positiewe bydrae tot die beskerming van ons land, Suid Afrika, te lewer.”) then to Manchester, England as an ordained Elder — a missionary — for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; (Propoganda at the time: “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan — it is God’s Plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.“)
I mention these landmarks because they have shaped and defined my leading to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church as it has been revealed to me through the Holy Spirit, spiritual mentors, pastors and priests and my own convictions.
My journey to ordained life and Religious vocation really began in when I was a child in 1970, transplanted from Southern Rhodesia to a new and frightening culture in South Africa where my parents sought a safer life and a better future. I was despised by many Calvinist Afrikaner Boere (for my last name, van Pletzen, was Dutch, but my mother tongue was English); my kind was marked forever as those who, during the second Boer War, had scorched their earth, burned their farmsteads and herded 27,000 Afrikaner women and children into the world’s first concentration camps where they died from dysentery, blackwater fever and starvation. I was marked with the blood of British colonial expansionism.
My refuge lay in the sanctuary of St. George’s chapel. There God knew me and spoke to me, consoled me, held me up and whispered, as mother to child, that at the end of it all I was acceptable to him. I clearly remember experiencing salvation at my confirmation on Tuesday March 21st 1972:
“Do ye endeavour to keep God’s holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of your life?” The Bishop held my head between his hands and prayed: “Defend, O Lord, this thy child, Blane, with thy heavenly grace, that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom.”
The phrase “. . . continue thine forever” became an early touchstone for me. I felt I would become a priest. My faith rested in my clergy and with my parents. While this was a time of early formation, and though I knew of my leading to a spiritual call, I had the world to discover; I was not yet awake.
In 1977, my senior year of high school, I took membership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints along with my entire family. In hindsight, this is something that I ought not to have done given the swiftness of the process and the absence of discernment. While I now look back on the paucity of theology during those years, I am grateful for the experiences this Church afforded me. I understand clearly how invaluable my tenure with the Mormon Church was: its abiding gift to me lies in my sense of leadership, pastoral care, the steady rhythm of ritual and the importance of scriptural study.
In 1980, up in Katima Mulilo where I was stationed with the South African military, a Dutch Reformed Dominee earnestly tried to convince me that I had taken a misstep by converting to Mormonism. Knowing of my strong Anglican roots, he quoted Timothy:
“But continue thou in those things which thou hast learned and which have been committed to thee. Knowing of whom thou hast learned them: And because from thy infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures which can instruct thee to salvation which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3: 14,15).”
This passage has spoken to me many times when I have been in need of spiritual direction.
I emigrated to the United States in the Summer of 1983. I married Lisa Ann Tullis in 1984. Our daughter, Esmé Camille, was born in 1985.
After receiving two degrees, I worked for the Mormon Church first as a Seminary instructor (at Davis High School in Kaysville, Utah) and then as a professor at Brigham Young University – Hawaii (in Laie, Oahu.) It was there that I finally began to come to terms with my sexuality and began my slow exit from Mormonism. Lisa and I later divorced.
I now understand Thomas Merton, the twentieth century mystic and Trappist when he argues that:
“. . .although men [and women] have a common destiny, each individual also has to work out his own personal salvation for himself in fear and trembling. We can help one another to find the meaning of life no doubt. But in the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself”. If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence. You cannot tell me who I am, and I cannot tell you who you are. If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you?”
There is much more I have to tell. What you must know, though, is how God brought me to St. Mark’s Cathedral Church. Scott, a former Mormon and returned-Missionary, and I arrived for a Friday night service not fully knowing why we were there. Following Eucharist I introduced myself to the Priest and briefly shared my story. “What must I do to come home?” I asked her. Without hesitation, Mother Robin James opened the Book of Common Prayer, looked me dead in the eye, and assured me: “Blane, may the Holy Spirit who has begun a good work in you direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom.”
Now my husband of fifteen years, Scott and I currently live in Buffalo, New York, where I am an Episcopal Priest and Monastic with The Companions of Our Lady of Walsingham. Scott works for The Episcopal Church Center and I work at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hamburg, Western New York, as their Rector. My former wife, Lisa, has since remarried, and Esmé lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.