My faith is being tested.
On Sunday morning, the Reverend Robert T. Carlson, my childhood hero and pastor of my church was found dead in the Penobscot River. Mr. C., as I knew him, was the pastor of East Orrington Congregational Church for 25 years. He started when I nine years old, shortly after my family moved to Orrington. He was bigger than life.
He was a leader in the Greater Bangor area. He was the chaplain of the Bangor and Brewer police and fire departments, he was a hostage negotiator, and president of Penobscot Community Healthcare, an organization that served those who could not afford medical care. He and his wife of 43 years had just been honored by the Katahdin Area Council of Boy Scouts of America on November 9th when it held its 15th annual Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner. He had also counseled people from committing suicide. Ironically, that's how it appears he died, at his own hands. It's baffling and for those who knew him, completely out of character for someone who lived his faith and literally practiced what he preached.
I remember coming out to Pastor Bob the summer after my freshman year of college. I was in tears, petrified to disappoint him. This man inspired me to want to become a pastor someday and I didn't think that was possible because I thought being gay would negate my ability to minister to people. He put his arms around me and asked, "Stacy, have you ever heard me say anything bad about gay people?" It suddenly dawned on me that he hadn't. Never had I heard him use his pulpit to promote bigotry or prejudice. What I remember is unconditional love and support. That's the Bob Carlson I knew. And it's the Bob Carlson that thousands of other people knew as well.
I'm very angry and devastated at the scandal that has erupted since his death. Apparently, he was under investigation by the Maine State Police before he was found dead in the Penobscot River on Sunday. He was being investigated for a child sex abuse case that had happened in the 1970s. I have a hard time even writing those words, since I don't believe he did it. Call me naive, but I believe the accusations are being made out of spite by someone close to him who struggled with addiction. If it's the person I have in mind, I know that Bob considered him a son. To be betrayed in that way by someone he loved so much is the only thing I can imagine would cause him to take his own life.
Now, as I cling to my faith and pray for closure on this issue, I remember the profession of faith East Orrington Congregational Church held so dear: Time, Trust and Thankfulness. The three T's. I will cherish all three and the countless lessons he shared with the greater Bangor area.
I love you Mr. C. God bless you and keep you safe in His arms.
- Stacy Graffam
- I'm a lesbian mom in an inter-racial relationship, living in Bergen County, NJ. My wife and I are raising two beautiful children, an eleven year-old son and a six year-old daughter. I'll be sharing our adventures in faith and parenting on a regular basis. My entries are also published in Gay Parent Magazine (www.gayparentmag.com).