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On Tuesday, December 14th, I had the privilege of attending a White House Holiday Reception with my wife of 33 years, Paula Schoenwether.
I was surprised to get the invitation, and, like many of them, it came just days before the event, so we had to do some scrambling. Since it was the first time I could bring a guest, that made it all the more exciting. I visited the White House earlier this year for the Easter breakfast, which was televised because the President used that opportunity to talk about a mine disaster that was underway. We had brunch in the East Room, and I was introduced to the President by a White House staffer.
Later this year I met with White House staff and lgbt religious leaders, which was the first time in over 30 years (I was the only one from our group of 25 or so that had attended the one with President Carter’s staff in 1979!)
Paula and I got to DC in the late morning and got to have some time with Governing Board member John Hassell and MCC DC board member Kareem Murphy, both of whom are members of our MCC Public Policy Team, who helped us think about the context of the visit (and share DC gossip!)
We got to the White House early, as they suggested, and stood outside in 20 degree weather, with the wind whipping all around. We finally got inside. The White House was gorgeous, and we were ushered into the East Wing. They had champagne, sparkling water, and warm welcomes. We were able to wander through the rooms, beautifully decorated for Christmas. A Marine band was playing holiday jazz. There was a splendid buffet in the East Room and State dining room. PJ Crowley, the press officer for Hillary Clinton at the State Department, and his wife, also Paula, sat with us for about 20 minutes – we talked about DADT. We commiserated over the loss of ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a huge loss for the country and the State Department. I thanked Mr. Crowley him for how supportive his boss and the State Dept have been around human rights concerns for lgbt people.
Out of about 200 plus people, I was one of three people in a clergy collar. We came out over and over again to dozens of people, which Paula loves to do!
I introduced myself and Paula to Cokie Roberts, which was my celebrity “hit.” There were very few religious folks, and Mitchell Gold and his husband Tim were the only lgbt leaders I recognized. It was a pretty straight, racially diverse crowd. We came out to everyone, held hands in the White House, enjoyed crowd watching. I met Bishop Minerva Carcano, who I have wanted to meet for years – she is a Methodist Bishop from Arizona who is very active in immigration reform, who was in DC for the “Dream Act.” She had just met with Rev. Harry Knox that morning, and heard that he was going to pastor Resurrection MCC in Houston. She was very supportive of and interested in MCC. It would be great to have her as a General Conference speaker, and she seemed open to that for 2013!
The President and Mrs. Obama joined us, he spoke for about 15 minutes, then shook hands behind a rope. We were able to get close to the front, and Paula got to connect and shake hands with him. She also got some excellent pictures, which she is putting on Facebook. The First Couple looked great, after who knows how many holiday parties (I heard there are 20). Michelle is even more beautiful in person, and they were hugging people, and were warm and generous. The President thanked the crowd, and focused on the children’s nutrition bill, which will help more than 2 million children get better nutrition. I felt like he was particularly happy to have gotten that through in this session, something aimed at improving the lifelong health of Americans.
From the State Dining room, we could see the kids’ swing set. The White House chocolatier had been very busy, they thoughtfully had non-alcoholic eggnog as an alternative . . .it was all very elegant.
At one point a White House staffer took me aside and said he was on his way to a DADT meeting, as if he wanted me to be sure to know that they are working on this.
We were also invited to a White House staff briefing, with about 150 people. The one on health care drew the most questions and suggestions, particularly that the White House should market all the benefits of the programs, bring it close to home for ordinary people, and blunt all the intentional dis-information. We got together with Rev. Candy Holmes (Rev. Darlene had to many church phone calls to make), John Hassell and his boyfriend Scott before we went to the airport.
We returned home feeling fortunate, and blessed to be a part of history.