With “Open the Doors” doormats in hand and the theme to “Mission Impossible” in our ears, Betty Dorr and I made our way stealthily to the hotel housing the largest number of delegates to the 1996 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. We were on a mission to change the church and not get busted in the process. Up one flight of stairs and onto another, in and out of elevators, we were the Dynamic Duo! She was thirty years my senior but ever so gleeful and determined in her ministry to “shape up!” and shake up the church she dearly loved.
She was the original UMC “Mama Bear” with love of all God’s children on her heart and the gospel of Jesus Christ as her ship sailing from the sand hills of her beloved Nebraska to the distant corners of the connection.
She was perpetually on a mission, decked out in rainbows from foot to forehead, to share the good news that her child, and all those she “adopted” along the way – were of sacred worth.
Accompanied by her husband Bob, Betty would be force of good nature, both locally and nationally, for many decades in and out of PFLAG, Parents Reconciling Network and RMN. Her short arms had a wide and miraculous reach able to embrace parents searching for answers, adult children searching for acceptance and a church that would cause her and her extended family pain and heartache year after year, General Conference after General Conference.
She embodied “endurance through suffering” while retaining hope that the church could be welcoming of all – all meaning all.
I was blessed by my connection to Betty and to Bob for almost twenty years. I was blessed to officiate at their son Michael’s memorial service in Chicago in 2006. I was blessed to share broken hearts and grieve with both of them and to offer them hope and love as they had done for so many for so many years.
We can only guess at the number of hugs Betty gave, workshops she led, testimonies she gave and phone calls she answered offering counsel and support to parents and persons of all sexual orientation and gender identities. There is no doubt that the church was blessed by Betty and at least a generation or two or three of lgbt persons found a home in her heart and found faith in the gospel because of her witness. I am one of those persons who found a living saint in Mama Bear Betty Dorr.
Who will take up the mantle of Betty Dorr?
Will we love with the same generosity, gracefulness and glee? May we be faithful to her memory in “shaping up” and shaking up the church we love.