Gay ministers race for ratings on tonight's episode of 'The Amazing Race.'
ENTERTAINMENT: The Hermosa Beach partners will appear
There weren't any lesbian ministers when the Rev. Kate Lewis and the Rev. Pat Hendrickson were young. There weren't even any women.
Times have changed - slowly. But role models are still hard to find, even in the liberal-leaning Episcopal Church, they say.
Lewis and Hendrickson, who have been in a relationship since meeting at a religious retreat in 1997, hope to change that by appearing on this season's popular reality show "The Amazing Race," which begins tonight on CBS.
"We're happy to offer ourselves up to show people that Christians come in many different stripes," said Lewis, a minister at St. Cross Episcopal Church in Hermosa Beach. "Some of us are progressive and inclusive."
The potential for a million-dollar cash prize, along with a globe-spanning adventure, didn't hurt, either.
"We are very serious about our relationship with God, and we are very serious about winning this race," Hendrickson said. "We're not afraid to have a good time, either. There's nothing wrong with having a little fun."
The pair certainly stand out among this season's lineup of two-person teams. Amid the cast of brothers and sisters, co-workers and heterosexual couples, Lewis and Hendrickson are the first lesbian team to compete on the show. The fact that they are both ordained ministers adds to their mystique.
Nearly 20,000 people apply each season for the show. The only requirements are that contestants be captivating, a little eccentric and "most of all engaging," according to CBS.
With a weekly average of about 10 million viewers, it is one of the most popular reality shows since "Survivor" hit the airwaves seven years ago.
Lewis and Hendrickson have been hooked on reality TV since the beginning, when they used to skip out on evening community gatherings in seminary to watch the latest drama unfold on television.
"It's the sociology of it that's so fascinating," said Hendrickson, a minister at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in Thousand Oaks. "You're watching people who haven't known each other before develop a relationship and compete on a show with so many twists and turns."
Lewis and Hendrickson have been sworn to secrecy about the details of their adventure - a CBS representative even had to listen in on a recent phone interview to ensure the results weren't divulged.
Until last week, Lewis had to lie to her congregation at St. Cross about where she was all summer, although the rector of St. Cross, the Rev. Paul Lawson, was in the loop.
"Everybody's really supportive," he said. "We're all looking forward to watching it."
The women had to come up with a fake story quick - something about a secret trip to investigate women's issues in Third World countries - because the selection process moved a lot faster than either expected. They applied last spring at the suggestion of a friend, and just a few weeks later learned they had been picked.
"It would have been nice to have some more time to get into shape," Lewis said with a laugh.
Lewis, 49, is mother to a grown son; Hendrickson, 65, is a mother of two sons and three grandchildren. They are among the older competitors, and will be racing against people in their 20s and 30s.
One of the youngest participants is also a South Bay resident: Hendekea Azene, a 23-year-old aerospace engineer from Torrance.
What the women lack in physical prowess, they make up for in mental toughness, they say. Both have certainly traveled a winding path through life.
They were both married to men, then divorced. And they both came into the ministry late in life.
Lewis worked in the film industry as a script supervisor for 25 years before "I came into my own, finally, in midlife. I heard the call to ministry and I answered it," she said. "I feel I was made for this in the first place."
Hendrickson wasn't raised in a devoutly religious household, but came to religion on her own at a young age. After being diagnosed with breast cancer when her kids were grown, "I started to feel that call, that I was supposed to be giving my life to the church," she said. "I fought it tooth and nail. I wasn't sure what it would mean."
Several years after their divorces, the two women met at a religious retreat and developed a close bond. Neither had been in a relationship with a woman before, so the attraction they felt was strange at first, they said. Six months later, however, they moved in together.
"Certain things told me I might (be a lesbian), but other things refuted that, like wanting children," said Lewis, when asked whether she knew she was gay at a younger age. "I wanted that kind of family situation, and we didn't have any other role models to look at."
They are now registered as domestic partners, and committed to each other at a blessing ceremony at St. Augustine Episcopal Church on Mother's Day in 2004.
Despite the controversy surrounding homosexuality in the Episcopal Church, neither Lewis nor Hendrickson felt uncomfortable "coming out" to their congregations. They know that some people disapprove, but it hasn't affected their ministries, they say.
"In person, to our face, people have been very positive," Lewis said. "The work of the body of Christ continues on whether we have a lesbian minister or not. It's rather incidental to what we do in the church."
The women say they aren't naive to the fact that the television network is probably exploiting their sexuality, combined with the role as ministers, to boost ratings. In fact, just doing the show, knowing that producers could cut and paste together video clips to portray the couple any way they choose, required a significant leap of faith.
"This is really an exercise for us in practicing what we preach," Hendrickson said. "We have no idea what to expect. We have to just let it go and leave it to God."http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_7365130