WE'RE REALLY GETTING BACK TOGETHER
Something that you'll know about me if you've known me for a little while is my complicated relationship with the church. You could say that things have been on-and-off for the last several years since coming out, for all the obvious reasons. Calvinism. Complementarianism. Oh, and of course, the bigger kicker, non-affirming LGBTQ theology.
Just the other night, I was sitting in my car, talking to my sister in the driveway about how for about three or four weeks straight immediately prior to me beginning what would become my 3-year hiatus from church, the head pastor felt the URGENT NEED to sneak something into the sermon about how depraved or broken or lost queer people are, by virtue of existing. It didn't really matter that the sermon had been about Peter denying Jesus three times or the Great Commission or some other completely unrelated topic. Apparently, this particular pastor happened to be massively convicted that he had to speak against queer people. Cool. Not relevant. But I guess we'll go with it.
That was the last straw essentially. At that point, it didn't even feel like a pastor reiterating the church's established beliefs on sexuality. At that point, it just felt like a cruel reminder that at this particular church, queer people were certainly NOT welcome, unless of course they were willing to entertain notions of lifelong solitude or conversion therapy.
And so, I left.
IT JUST FELT LIKE A CRUEL REMINDER THAT QUEER PEOPLE WERE CERTAINLY NOT WELCOME
What happened over the next several years could probably be an entirely separate blog series or book. For quite a bit of time, I distanced myself from the church as much as possible, helped by the fact that I ended up being away from home for almost six months straight that year, between going to what amounted to a linguistics bootcamp in North Dakota and then spending the fall semester of my senior year of college in Spain.
In many ways, the time away was incredibly healing, and I would say that it was necessary for me to have maintained any semblance of trust in spirituality at all. And it was during this time that I fell in love with the more contemplative and introspective aspects of Christianity that would ultimately guide me back to church.
All of that to say, I think we're really getting back together.
Church and I, that is.
For all my friends who are reading this article because I chose a clickbait title, yeah that relationship is most definitely not getting back together. *cue Taylor Swift*
it was during this time [3 year church hiatus] that i fell in love with the contemplative aspects of christianity that would ultimately guide me back
Late last year was when I finally started finding myself wandering back. Incredibly long and boring story short, I discovered this affirming church that I had visited a couple years back had recently relocated to South Minneapolis (MUCH less of a haul than where it had previously been in the west suburbs), and after what my evangelical upbringing would call a "total God moment" of running into a group of girls who went to this church outside a Minneapolis bar at 10:30pm on a Monday night, I've kind of been going ever since.
That night was a strange and somewhat disorienting way to "get plugged in" to the church, if you will, but I also think it was entirely appropriate for the situation and the place I was in. I was there with a group of friends, and we had closed down the bar (I feel the need to emphasize this was on on a MONDAY night again), so we were all a little messy at that point, but I think that's what made it feel wholehearted. A little intoxicated, we were all swearing about how great of Christians we were, shutting down a bar on a Monday night, and we ended up shouting the church's benediction across the parking lot of this bar to each other as we left. But I loved it. That one interaction in a completely nonreligious context was perhaps the biggest motivator for me to actually go back to church the next weekend, because for the first time in a long time, I felt like these Christians were real, messy people like me.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME, I FELT LIKE THESE CHRISTIANS WERE REAL, messy people like me
It's been a few months now since I started going to this particular church every single week, and like any good getting-back-together story, I didn't want to say anything too soon, in case it didn't take. I'd dabbled in church here and there over the course of the last couple years and had never found anything that felt right, so you'll understand I was a little skeptical this time as well.
But slowly, the walls started to come down, and to quote Love, Simon, I had to keep reminding myself "you get to exhale now."
For so long, I had been on the defensive as my default whenever I walked into a church building, wondering what the people around me would think of me. I spent my church visits listening and trying to discern whether or not the church would allow me to participate in worship, to become a member, or to be in leadership someday if I was out to them, and I actually created a routine for myself of doing some pretty thorough research on any church I found myself even remotely interested in prior to checking it out in person, just so I could save myself the time. I would scour church websites and Google denominational faith statements to determine whether I would be truly welcomed there, and in almost every case, I found that the answer was no. It was exhausting.
That's the reason why I half-drunkenly screamed that benediction in the parking lot of a bar with a group of girls I had just met, because I had heard it at the very end of the service the first time I'd checked out this church again, and that benediction alone made me want to come back the next week.
It goes like this:
No matter who you are or what you've done, who you love or what you've lost, where you've gone or where you've stayed, there is always a seat for you at The Table, because you are the beloved child of God, and you belong.
I heard those words that Sunday night, and the sensation it evoked inside me was reminiscent of the night I believe God spoke to me and convinced me I was okay as a queer person.
Those words are what affirmation is. It's not just tolerating queer people in your midst. It's saying that you are beloved not in spite of but because of who you are. It's saying that you are seen and that you are considered, and that's what finally made the difference at this place. Those words made me feel like they were being spoken directly to me, and the interactions with the rest of the community in this church have only reinforced that.
People have affirmed the pain and rejection that came with coming out in the church. People have affirmed the subsequent suspicion of church I held for a long time and still do to a certain extent. People affirmed my desire to become a therapist to work with LGBTQ+ kids and their families. And last week, I was affirmed in serving communion during the service for the first time ever as an out queer person.
LAST WEEK, I WAS AFFIRMED IN SERVING COMMUNION DURING THE SERVICE FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER AS AN OUT QUEER PERSON
In all honesty, it probably wasn't a big deal to anyone other than me, perhaps aside from the fact that someone who had only been going to this church for a couple months actually wanted to serve communion.
But it was a quietly profound experience for me. Several of the people who received communion from me probably didn't even know that I was queer, not that it would've made a difference to them even if they had known. But as an out queer person, to be able to stand in a church and say "the body of Christ broken for you" without anyone questioning the legitimacy of my faith or why I was "allowed" to participate in a sacrament was healing and affirming.
And that's part of the reason I'm finally back. I found a place that sees me as a person, not necessarily a queer person (though they love and celebrate that as well), not necessarily as a person who took three years off from church, but as simply a person, simply another bearer of the image of God. And you can feel that in the room.
My journey of getting back together with church was a long one, and I know many people who are still at different points on that path. My hope is that all queer people of faith would be able to find what they're looking for, to find what I finally found after so many years, a community of faith that loves and affirms them the same way that our mysterious God already has.
As a queer person, or even as a non-queer person, take a minute to scroll back up and let that benediction roll over you. Maybe you're ready to be back in church. Maybe you're not. But let those words speak to your soul and hear them as coming from the One who Loves Most Deeply, because that's what They say.
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