On my first Sunday at
Wedgewood Church, I walked in not knowing what to expect. Sure, there was a rainbow flag out front and a rainbow flag on the door, but a lot of times churches claim to be LGBT-friendly and then you walk in and absolutely nobody in the church is actually LGBT. There's a big difference between hanging out with allies and hanging out with actual members of the LGBT community, and I wanted the latter in a church setting.
So when I walked into Wedgewood by myself and sat in the back, I'm pretty sure I audibly gasped when Reverend Doctor Nancy Ledins took the pulpit.
I told her this once, so I know I can say this and it won't offend her - the reason why I was in awe that day is because I had never seen an old transgender person. In her 80s, living her best life, being trans. In the lines on Nancy's face I found hope. I looked at her and felt content, like everything was going to be OK. She was transgender, came out as transgender in the 1970s, and she had lived - not just survived, but lived - to old age.
I know I liked Wedgewood from the start, but the moment I knew I would be coming back every week was when I saw Nancy for the first time. Eventually I got to know her. You could find us every Sunday with her in the second pew and me right behind her crocheting in the third pew. A couple of times people tried to sit in her spot, and I would always politely ask them to move before she arrived. In her last few weeks at Wedgewood, I'd bring communion to her since it was a lot of work for her to get up and go to the front for it. Whenever we had blessings of holy oil, I would always go to Nancy's line. No offense to the other ministers who do the blessings, but I wanted to be blessed by the best. She would press her thumb to my forehead and say, "Oh, Maddison," and I knew it was going to be a good day.
Early on Sunday mornings Nancy would come off the elevator leaning on her cane, and everyone in the choir loft would greet her enthusiastically. She would then flip us the bird and head to her seat without a word. Then, later, as I sat behind her, she'd turn to me and sincerely say, "You're one of my favorite people," and I'd respond, "You're one of my favorite people, too, Nancy."
Her greeting may have been flipping the bird, but my greeting to her was always, "My girl Nancy!" in a funny accent and she'd look at me in confusion as if she just didn't understand millennials.
The first time I sang a solo at church, I headed back to my seat and she stopped me by grabbing my hand. She pulled me down close to her and said, "You sing so good for a white girl." After that, every time I sang, she'd say, "It's a shame you can't sing," as I headed back to my seat.
Her passing grieves me, but I also still feel that contentment that I felt the first time I saw her. She lived a rich and full life and was able to spend the last few years of it quiet and peacefully. She had stories and stories to tell, and I'm honored that I was able to hear many of them. While I miss sitting behind her in church every Sunday, I know she'll be with me forever. Rest in peace, Nancy.