Martha Juillerat was born in West Virginia in 1956. Her parents were devoted members of the Presbyterian Church, both did lay mission work for thirty years. Her Presbyterian heritage runs deep; both her parents and her grandparents were charter members of the West Virginia church where Juillerat was baptized. As such, the Presbyterian Church shaped the course of her life from infancy onwards. She always felt a call to ministry in the Presbyterian Church, and always planned to pursue and actuate that call.
Juillerat was educated at McCormick Seminary in Chicago, enrolling in 1977. McCormick Seminary was committed to introducing students to an eclectic range of religious perspectives, including feminist, liberation, and political theologies. In the National LGBTQ Task Force’s documentary So Great a Cloud of Witnesses, Juillerat comments that she “took to that like a duck to water. That kind of service wrapped up in a theology of equality and dignity and freedom was exactly where I was, so it was a perfect fit and just strengthened everything I believed ministry should be about.”
Juillerat met Tammy Lindahl, her life-long partner in life and ministry, while both were serving parishes in southwest Missouri. They held a commitment service in 1988, although they were unable to tell their congregations about one of the most joyous and profound days in both of their lives. Leading such a “carefully and tightly choreographed life” was an “oppressive” way to live, however, and both women began to contemplate the possibility of coming out within the context of their ministries.
In 1993, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church opened a three-year period of dialogue about human sexuality. The Assembly asked all LGBT individuals with the ability to come out to do so, in order to share their experiences and truths with the broader church. However, despite this request, the Assembly made no promises to protect LGBT+ ministers’ ordinations, should they come out and face backlash from their congregations. Juillerat and Lindahl both agreed to engage in church-wide dialogues about sexuality and LGBT+ people within the church, becoming two of only three people in the central states who were willing and able to come out and share their stories. As such, to quote Juillerat, both she and Lindahl “immediately had targets painted on our backs.” Virtually every weekend, she and Lindahl would travel in order to participate in dialogues about human sexuality, keeping up this work while also working full time jobs. The work was grueling, violent, and hateful, as they faced death threats, obscene insults, and bigoted prejudice at the hands of many within the Presbyterian Church.
In 1995, Juillerat was faced with the prospect of her ordination being revoked due to “inactivity.” Because of her commitment to the process of intra-Church dialogue, she was no longer welcome to serve in ministry. As Juillerat struggled to find a way to continue to serve out her call to ministry, she and Lindahl also struggled to find a way to represent the stories of closeted people of faith who had, in the strictest confidence, told Juillerat and Lindahl of their own sexuality or gender identity. In an environment where it appeared that, if only the Church could quash the voices of the three participants in dialogue, LGBT+ equality and freedom within the church might conveniently vanish, it was vitally important to be able to share more stories. A friend of Juillerat’s and Lindahl’s came up with the symbol of the stole, suggesting that Juillerat and Lindahl ask fellow LGBT+ clergy to donate a stole to represent their life, faith, and commitment to the church. Six weeks after Juillerat and Lindahl made the initial request for stoles, a total of eighty stoles had been sent to them. These eighty stoles accompanied Juillerat on September 16th, 1995 to the church in Kansas City, Missouri where Juillerat set aside her ordination at a meeting of Heartland Presbytery.
The collection of stoles – the nascent Shower of Stoles – affected members of the presbytery on a personal level, as each stole represented an LGBT+ person whose call was hindered by the Presbyterian Church’s repressive policies regarding human sexuality. Even after Juillerat set aside her own ordination, stoles continued to flood their mailbox, and it became apparent that hundreds – if not thousands – of people were ready to share their stories. By dint of this unexpected overflow of stoles, Juillerat and Lindahl became the initial caretakers of the Shower of Stoles, a collection now in possession of the National LGBTQ Task Force. In early 1996, Juillerat and Lindahl traveled with their collection of two hundred stoles to Rochester, New York, in order to share the stoles’ narratives with a meeting of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. The stoles were hugely impactful, and, a mere seven weeks later, Juillerat and Lindahl had three hundred and fifty stoles in their possession.
Juillerat and Lindahl took care of the stoles for many years, sharing their profound narratives of grace with the world. Over the course of eleven years, Juillerat drove close to a half a million miles sharing the collection with hundreds of churches, seminaries and ecclesiastical bodies across the United States and Canada. In 2006 they turned a collection of over 1,000 stoles containing the names and stories of thousands of LGBTQ people of faith to the National LGBT Task Force. The number of stoles in the Shower of Stoles has only grown since.
(This biographical statement written by Sarah Pawlicki and edited by Martha Juillerat.)
Biography Date: November 2018
More Light Presbyterians (formerly Presbyterians for LGBT Concerns) | Presbyterian Church (USA) | Shower of Stoles Project | Activist (religious institutions)
“Martha Juillerat | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 17, 2021, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/martha-juillerat.