As you probably know if you follow this blog with any regularity, I recently published a nonfiction book titled, Who Am I If You’re Not You? (What? You want to know more about it? Glad you asked. Here’s the website, and here’s an earlier blog post.) The book has been a great way to meet people, including at PrideFest in Richmond, VA, back in September. Two women each bought a copy of my book and said they’d like to introduce me to their pastor, each swearing he’d love it.
I smiled, thanked them, and thought, “Sure, he will.”
See, I grew up going to church. Voluntarily. My family wasn’t active in any church, but my best friend’s was, and since we were damn near inseparable, I went with her. It was a Southern Baptist church and I attended it for years–active in the choir, president of the youth group. I was immersed. And that was my framework of church for a long time.
It was a nice church, with nice people. When I got older, I attended various other churches for short periods of time, never really finding one that I felt was quite right for me. And after awhile I stopped looking. I came to the conclusion that the Bible, and all it stood for, didn’t necessarily contain everything I believed. My beliefs became more spiritual and less religion-based.
But there as another reason I stopped attending. I didn’t care for churches where there was so much ceremony – now it’s time to kneel, now it’s time to stand, now it’s time to find this hymn or that passage. I was self-conscious, afraid of making a mistake and looking foolish.
Now, back to the present. These two women I met through a book sale did, in fact, introduce me to their pastor and we arranged for me to attend two Wednesday night gatherings. From the moment I walked up to the front door that first Wednesday night, I knew this was no ordinary church. There was a homeless man sitting outside. And as I walked inside, there was another homeless man at the coffee pot, happily prattling away to himself. No one was shooing them away, or casting sideways glances. These two men were welcome here.
No less than three people came to greet me and offer hugs. These were strangers to me, but they acted like we were old friends. And I felt like we were! I experienced many surprising things that evening, like the pastor inviting everyone up for the prayer circle before we began — and inviting the homeless to join us in the circle! — and the most open, honest and candid conversation about LGBT issues I’ve ever had. We talked about it IN CHURCH. I was astonished (in a very, very good way).
See, church to me was where you put on your nice clothes and acted proper, said the right things and sang nice songs. God forbid you talked about homosexuality, sex, gender transition, or anything of the sort.
This church was a totally different story. People of all walks were welcome here, and FREE TO BE WHO THEY ARE. It was the most liberating, refreshing experience I’ve had in a very long time. Honestly, I marveled during the whole event, thinking, “This is what church is SUPPOSED to be. This is what Jesus must’ve had in mind.” It felt like home — the kind of home when you can be among family and friends and feel comfortable to burp if you need to (not that I heard anyone do so – but I bet if they’d needed to, they’d have felt like they could without judgement.) The kind of place where you could wear your jeans with holes (does that make them holy?) and no one would look askance. A place where you could just BE … and be accepted for it.
And that’s what church should be, right? A “sanctuary” without judgement? Where you can gather without fear of saying the wrong thing, or worry about what others think? Where the homeless are welcomed inside the walls AND the prayer circle?
In case you’re wondering, the church was the Metropolitan Community Church in Richmond, Virginia. If you’re near the area, I highly recommend you check it out. Truly, you’ll feel welcome. Tell Pastor Kenny – one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – I sent ya. And then let me know if you have the same reaction.
What’s your church experience like? Do you have a place like MMC? I’d love to hear your story!
And in case you’re interested, their website has some really interesting reading about homosexuality and the church. Here’s the link if you wanna see for yourself.