On Easter weekend in 1979, three queer men ventured out into the Castro District in San Francisco wearing traditional nun habits. They were bored by the "clones," or population of local gay men lacking variety in their appearance. As expected, they created a stir in the community. That was the first manifestation of what would become the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI), a now worldwide organization of queer nuns whose mission is "to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt" through community service.

On Easter weekend in 1979, three queer men ventured out into the Castro District in San Francisco wearing traditional nun habits. They were bored by the "clones," or population of local gay men lacking variety in their appearance. As expected, they created a stir in the community. That was the first manifestation of what would become the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI), a now worldwide organization of queer nuns whose mission is "to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt" through community service.

"I took my vows in Toronto in 1983," Sister Flirtatious Romanovsky of Middlesex (Brian Gryphon) said in a late-December interview at Club Diversity. She moved to Columbus in 1996 "after having buried one too many people from AIDS," and now serves as the Mistress of Novices, a vice president role, in the city's Official Mission of the SPI: The Abbey of the Cardinal Sins.

"Back in Toronto, we referred to ourselves as guerilla nuns who were non-gendered," Sister Flirt said. "And we were using [nun imagery] partly as parody of the church but also out of respect for nuns because … nuns get things done."

However, the Toronto SPI Order folded in 1986 due to community criticism.

"I don't believe they were making fun of the church as much as they were pointing out the hypocrisy of the church," said Sister Heidi Hideyho (Jay Overholser), the Abbess, or president, of The Abbey of Cardinal Sins. "We're just saying that not all nuns are born as biological women."

Challenging the binary perception of gender, many sisters have beards and heavy makeup, which may or may not include "white face." The attire of The Abbey of the Cardinal Sins is specific to the state and its capital city. For example, Sister Heidi wears a carnation, the state flower. She also explained that the "cardinal wings" of her three-pointed hat are, in part, an homage to the tricorn hats worn by sculpted figures on the LeVeque Tower Downtown. "And then also we have buckeyes on our rosaries," she said.

Having first manifested at the city's Highball Halloween costume party in 2014, The Abbey of the Cardinal Sins currently has five ordained members and several other active participants. They serve the community by hosting events like the "Columbus Bitch Trials" - a roast of a local drag queen - and the "Project Nunway" fashion show to raise money for charities such as Project Open Hand and the OSU Star House. They also pass out condoms and educate the public on the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) HIV-prevention pill.

Additionally, the sisters have worked to "spread joy" during challenging times.

"Right after the Pulse [nightclub] massacre, we had a day where we just went to the Short North and passed out candy," Sister Heidi said. "We were giving hugs … and just saying we need to add a little sweetness to our lives. We can't just live in the pain."

Sister Heidi and Sister Flirt also offered "candy communion" and "SPF 30 anointings" at a Westboro Church anti-gay protest at Ohio State University.

The sisters are also tasked with "expiating stigmatic guilt," which they see as "guilt that outside organizations … put upon people to try to define who they are [and] who they should love," according to Sister Heidi.

"Don't let someone else lay these layers of guilt and sin upon you by their own definitions," she said. "It's up to you to find the holiness in yourself and to celebrate that."

The Abbey of the Cardinal Sins also hosts General Membership Meetings. The next one will take place on Sunday, Jan. 8 at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, and it is open to interested members of the public.

To become an ordained member of The Abbey of the Cardinal Sins, one must meet a specific set of requirements. One can either join as a sister or a guard, adopting a male persona.

Currently known as a Mission, The Abbey of the Cardinal Sins will become a "fully professed house" once it solidifies its set of policies and procedures and obtains 501(c)(3) status - a requirement of the United Nuns Privy Council (UNPC), which oversees the establishment of SPI Orders in the U.S. and Canada.

Sister Flirt noted it is a "perpetual struggle to balance being part of a nearly 40-year-old organization with all of that history [and] with the responsibility and requirements" with being "an organization whose history is not to take anything seriously."

The sisters are looking forward to growing their group and number of events, and continuing the SPI mission.

"The goal is to serve the community," Sister Flirt said. "What is the community going to need five years from now? … A year ago, if someone had said, 'You're gonna have to spend 2017 consoling people over the election results,' we probably wouldn't have believed that. Now, it may be what we do."