Helping LGBT People Reconnect with Their Faith Through Fellowship

Marvin Baker sang his first church solo in 1929, when he was a young boy. Now he’s 89, and his personal faith is still an integral part of his life. He has worked as an educator, author and pastor, among other professions.

Baker sees bringing LGBT people together for fellowship as a very important component in reconciliation.

Since 2010, Baker has moderated a local Gay Christian Fellowship group that meets on Wednesdays in Johnson County, Kan., providing fellowship and discussion time for LGBT folks and those who support them.

Baker’s husband, Paul Trittin, 68, has worked alongside him for 13½ years. They were married in Iowa in July 2013.

Baker was born in Kokomo, Ind., and much of his formal education took place within his home state. He earned his doctorate in elementary education from Ball State University in Muncie and did post-doctoral work at Indiana University. In addition, he has studied English and music at Indiana Wesleyan University and religion at Azusa Pacific University in California.

Baker has retired from working as an educator, but has been involved in several post-retirement projects. His accomplishments include writing and editing books, composing gospel songs and creating musicals.

Baker lost his wife in January 2001. After her death, Baker and Trittin formed the consulting firm Baker Trittin Concepts. Two years later, that firm became Baker Trittin Press. Trittin served as president of the small publishing house and was also an illustrator. Baker was the editor-in-chief.

Trittin, a California native, was stationed in Kansas during the Vietnam era and spent many years in Christian publishing. Part of his overseas experiences involved mission work connected to the Assemblies of God Church at the International Correspondence Institute in Brussels, Belgium. Trittin lived in the Kansas City area in the 1980s and divorced his wife before moving to Michigan with Baker in 2001. Both men said their wives knew about their sexuality before their marriages.

In December 2001, Baker also lost his daughter, Vangie. A few years earlier, with her father’s encouragement, Vangie had been working on writing the New Testament in language that tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) would readily comprehend. Her first focus was the work traditionally attributed to Mark the Evangelist.

After Vangie’s death, Trittin drove Baker to North Carolina for her funeral. During the drive home, Baker shared Vangie’s idea with Trittin and gave him the manuscript to read. Trittin suggested that Baker restart the work and write it from a grandfather’s perspective, which he did as a tribute to his daughter. Baker Trittin Press published Mark’s Story. Grouped with other adaptations for tweens, the anthology was called the Gospel Storyteller Series.

Baker has written and lectured on the creative child, and creativity is a recurring element in his work. Trittin, who has worked as a commissioned artist, also embraces creativity. When the two moved to St. Joseph, Mo., a few years back, they found the raw materials for creating a new kind of fellowship.

The couple rented the church parsonage of Zion United Church of Christ (UCC) in downtown St. Joe. The parsonage backed right up to the church building, so naturally they became involved with the congregation. One day, as Trittin was doing some painting and Baker was looking on, two young women strolled up and stopped to pet a nearby dog.

When Baker offered to show them the church, one woman replied, “I’m gay.” She boldly entered the sanctuary, knelt and prayed, then returned to the group with a swagger of defiant accomplishment.

“We are, too,” said Trittin. And with that unexpected reply, her energy for bluster turned to interest in Bible study.

The church formed a study and fellowship group called the Gay Christian Fellowship (now Gay-Straight Christian Fellowship). Baker had been involved with many denominations over the years, but he was not an ordained UCC minister. Because he was interested in working with this group, however, UCC granted him a special designation as minister to the gays.

In 2010, Zion UCC had a big day of induction. Baker oversaw several baptisms. Some of these were done by sprinkling, but others, by request, were done by immersion. The nearby First Christian Church lent Zion its baptistry for this purpose.

Some readers may recognize Zion UCC’s Gay-Straight Christian Fellowship as the group that hosted St. Joseph’s first gay pride event in 2013.

In January, Baker and Trittin plan to attend the annual conference of the Gay Christian Network (GCN).

Executive director Justin Lee founded this nonprofit organization in 2001, and its stated mission is sharing Christ’s light and love for all. GCN works to promote spiritual growth, cultivate safe community, support family and friends, educate and encourage the church and engage the wider LGBT community and the world. The conference theme will be “Together at the Table.”

Baker said the results of an informal survey were announced at last year’s Gay Christian Network conference in Chicago. He recalls that 85 percent of gay people who were polled reported having some church background. He is interested in what happened to that faith.

“My experience in the last five years is that many have left the church, but they may not have left their faith. I like Billy Graham’s daughter’s phrase, believer in exile. She has written, ‘I have found myself living as a “believer in exile,” not running from God, but tired of putting up with those who call themselves by His name, yet behave in an ungodly manner.’”

Baker says that he apologizes for the church because it taught the LGBT community to be deceitful. But he reminds those who have left the church that they are not alone. There is fellowship. And now there is marriage. Things are happening.

Baker and Trittin now live in Overland Park, Kan. They are involved not only with the local Gay Christian Fellowship, but also with the MoKan Comm-UNITY Consortium, the new group planning 2015’s Mid-America Pride in Kansas City. And they recently took the plunge into another creative endeavor by joining the city’s beloved Heartland Men’s Chorus.

When asked what additional advice he would give to LGBT persons seeking to reconnect with their faith, Baker replied:
The memory of the peace and joy you felt when you had faith in God makes it difficult to ignore his invitation to come home. The reluctance to return is heightened by the misinformation given by some who pretended to be the voice of God. The return to faith is linked to forgiving those who hurt you with misinformation. God offers direct access to him; use it. Find other “seekers” and pursue reconciliation and support.
Opportunities to Participate
▪ The Gay Christian Network (gaychristian.net) will host its 2015 conference (Gay Christian Network) Jan. 8-11 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
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Bradley Osborn

Brad has been writing for Camp since 2004. His beat is mostly local features and general LGBT news. Common topics have included youth, faith and community. Although he holds an M.A. in journalism, he primarily considers himself to be a chemist, having studied and worked in biochemistry, quantitative analysis, quality assurance and the production of educational science texts. He's laconic, unintentionally enigmatic and often facetious. He enjoys irony, as well as things – but not animals, apparently – that are simultaneously beautiful and utilitarian. He and his cat, Charlie Parker, reside in downtown Kansas City, Mo. If you have a story idea for Brad, send him a note at bosborn@campkc.com.

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