What do you do when you think someone you know is making a mistake, in fact a series of mistakes? Do you plunge in with unsolicited advice? Confer with friends about possible interventions? Offer support and aid, in any way possible? Some combination of the above?
In 2002, the Associate Minister at Neighborhood Church, Rev. Greg Stewart, and his partner, Stillman White, had taken on a challenge that seemed unsustainable. Within a couple of years they had fostered and adopted five challenging young boys. These children had experienced more abuse and neglect in their short lives than most of us can imagine. Ranging in age from five years down to two weeks, the boys had collectively had more than 50 placements in the California foster system. At that time, it was pretty much an experiment by DCFS to place them with two men, but the only alternative in each case (except for the baby’s) was to put them in a group home setting until they turned 18. Two pairs of siblings would have to be separated, and the boys would never know the love of a family.
Needless to say, none of these kids looked to have much of a future. Still, Greg and Stillman felt up to the challenge of raising them. Many outside observers were alarmed as the family rapidly grew. Church members, experienced parents, employed the above-mentioned strategies – counseling, conferring, and offering help. Stillman’s wry response to well-intentioned advice became standardized: “Thanks for sharing.”
As an ethnographer, writer, and parent, I found it increasingly imperative that I investigate this seemingly rash endeavor. My filmmaker husband and I proposed to Greg and Stillman that we make a documentary about their family, over the course of several years. We told them, “This will be extremely intrusive and disruptive of your lives. We don’t know how long it will continue. And you will have no control over the finished product.” They agreed. Go figure…!
Over the next five years, I visited the Stewart family frequently, watching the boys grow into a band of brothers, observing the pitfalls and recording the dads’ successful techniques for turning their children’s lives around. It wasn’t easy keeping up with the family. During that time, they lived in four different parts of the country – not all of them receptive to a mixed-race, two-father household. I recorded over a hundred hours of family life, as well as Greg’s and Stillman’s reflections on being pioneers in what is now a rather common path to parenthood as a same-sex couple.
In 2007 we were awarded a generous finishing grant from the California Council for the Humanities. We spent the better part of that year editing – a difficult and joyous process. Four months after the film was finished, my husband, Neighborhood Church member and Religious Education teacher Mark Nealey, passed away. “Preacher’s Sons” was his final contribution to the world, a tribute to the power of love in children’s lives.
On October 13th at 3:00 in the afternoon “Preacher’s Sons” will screen in the Sanctuary. If you are curious about fostering or adopting children (the need is still there, folks!), come take a look. If you were here during Rev. Stewart’s tenure, you’ll want to catch up. Want to know how same-sex couples and their families are received in Grand Rapids, MI? This film will be most informative. Want to celebrate the love two people can bring into the world? This film is for you. A panel of experts, including an adoptive mother and daughter from Neighborhood Church, will speak and answer questions following the screening.