Let me give you some background:
I took a much-needed break from church. I wasn’t “mad” at anyone, but I was discouraged and disillusioned. In the past, I’d been part of some wonderful churches, and actively involved in leadership—speaking, teaching, administration, training. But in the last few instances, the experience soured. Pastors with rigid, self-centered agendas, staff with control issues, members with no compassion, leadership more interested in structure than in spiritual care. In these cases, rather than cause problems and conflict, I’ve left. I don’t see church as a sparring match, but a support system! And when it happened the last time, that’s when I made the decision to take a “sabbatical.”
Honestly, I didn’t think my self-imposed exile from church would last this long, but it’s been almost two years. I began to wonder if I would ever want to go back to church. But now we're finally looking for a church.
When it comes to the search, there are some things I am willing to negotiate, and there are things I will not. First and foremost, I refuse to give my allegiance to a church that is not fully (and conspicuously) committed to LGBT inclusions. I certainly won’t give my money to a church that sees us in any way “less than” because we are gay.
There is a difference in being invited to attend and being entitled to participate.
There is a difference in being tolerated in a pew and being eligible for leadership.
There is definitely a difference in being Welcomed and being Wanted.
Visiting churches is an interesting experience. As an openly gay couple, our presence challenges those churches that take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. While we don’t “make an issue” of our relationship, or “flaunt” our affection, we refuse to hide that we are, indeed, a couple. And we both know God has called us to ministry in the church, so we cannot (and will not) be part of a church that won’t allow gay people in leadership.
I think being part of a church includes integrity, honesty and transparency. It’s about being real with those who promise to accept and love us. Just as we are! We can’t do that if we’re pretending we’re only good friends or roommates. (Haven’t we all had enough of phony people in church?)
I see such dishonesty as contrary to how Christians are called to live out a reconciled faith.
I won’t hide who I am under a bushel.
Some would ask "Why bother?"
I have friends who've chosen to exit church, permanently.
But I want to return.
I miss church!
I was a Pastor (two churches) for more than 15 years, and I believe it can be a vital part of our faith journey. To me, it’s not about attending a meeting on Sunday mornings, but about aligning with the overall mission. It’s not about having my name on a membership roll, but about my involvement in the work of the ministry. I'm not looking for an organization; I'm seeking connection with a community of people.
Perhaps it's a futile dream, a quest for something that doesn't exist.
For the past few months we’ve been attending a diverse United Methodist Church in our area. We enjoy the contemporary worship services, and met some sweet folks. I’ve enrolled in a Tuesday morning Bible study as well. I appreciate that the church is very involved with practical social issues, such as care for the elderly, feeding the hungry and reaching out to the poor. We do have some questions, but are being patient at this point.
Is this the church for us?
Time will tell.