Today’s post is a topic I don’t typically write about. It’s about my faith journey and relationship with communities of faith throughout my life.
I slowly exited the Catholic Church, with an enormous amount of guilt (shocking) in my 20s. And when I say 20s, I mean, it truly took me years. When I was 18 years-old, my step-brother came out to my family. When I was in college, my young cousin started telling her parents, “My outside parts don’t match my inside parts.” The universal code for “I am transgender.”
As a family, they learned what this meant through research and counseling. Before Kate (the new name she chose) entered 3rd grade, her Catholic grade school sent a letter to her home informing her family that “Ben” (her former name) was no longer welcome at the school. My cousins moved to another part of town and joined a new school and United Church of Christ (UCC). UCC welcomed them with open arms—including Kate. The senior minister of UCC reached out to Kate’s family after reading their story in the Omaha World Herald. Kate’s mom never intended to set foot in another church had it not been for this invitation.
A faith-based community was always a part of my life. I went to Catholic grade school, high school and university. It was all I knew. Incidentally, several of the priests I knew growing up were gay. The community that raised me in Omaha, NE included the parish I grew up in. When my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when I was 13 years-old and passed away two years later, members of this community were helping my family every day with meals, rides to sports practices, and prayers.
But as I watched my cousins go through their journey, along with discrimination my brother faced, I felt more and more distanced from the Catholic Church. I never understood the church’s stance on LGBTQ. How can we call ourselves Christians, yet exclude a part of the population? Who are we, as humans, to deny anyone the body or blood of Christ?
By my mid-20s I wasn’t going to church at all. And I missed it. I missed the sense of community that had carried my family through some very tough times. For a few years, I was entirely lost in my faith.
Then, after attending a Christmas service at Greenwood Community Church with my sister’s family, I thought, “Hmmm. That was different. But I liked it. I wonder if they have one of these in Denver, closer to where I live.”
So one Saturday evening, I googled “Denver Community Church,” which is how I came to find Denver Community Church (DCC). I started attending services, and I loved the sense of community. Michael, the lead pastor has a genuine gift from God to share His message. Michael is married. He talks about his wife and his kids. What I love the most about Michael is that he’s vulnerable. He shares his fears and faults. He’s relatable.
I joined a DCC supper club group and made a couple connections in the church. I didn’t go every Sunday, but I went. It was a step in the right direction.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, Pastor Dave and Bambi, one of the elders, were there to listen and pray with me. Every time I saw them, they’d ask how I was doing. As would Brigette, a friend from my supper club.
But as of this past Sunday, I hadn’t been to church in over six months. After reading an email from DCC about the annual Denver Gay Pride Parade in June, I was left, again, questioning organized religion. I don’t remember what exactly the email said. At first, I was excited to read it. DCC, along with other churches in the community, were joining forces to “stand guard” during the parade, in the wake of the Orlando shooting. But it ended with something along the lines of “even though we might not agree with the lifestyle of the LGBTQ community, the parade is not the time to express that.”
“We” in this instance could have meant all of DCC or some of its members. Or maybe it sounded nothing like this, and I was looking for an excuse to stop going to church.
This past Sunday, I woke up feeling compelled to go to DCC. Part of this may have been driven by just finishing a book called Angels in My Hair, where the author, Lorna Byrne, talks about how much God loves group prayer. I also had a very spiritual experience on Saturday during my reiki session, where I felt my guardian angel touching my hand. Mock this if you’d like, but they call it faith for a reason.
At the start of the service, we watched a video from the elders of DCC. Okay, I missed the video because punctuality is not my forte, but thankfully, I was able to find it online! To recap, the elders talked about how they have spent the past couple years through prayer and reflection discussing the LGBTQ community. They have concluded that as a faith community, DCC will move forward with and for the LGBTQ community. They acknowledged this is not about an issue, it’s about mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, and God’s love for all people. It demands compassion, empathy and a willingness to listen.
Michael gave his sermon. When he got to the part where he ties in his own personal story and started talking about the LGBTQ community, I laughed to God and my angels. They were certainly up to something that morning pulling me back to church.
Michael talked about a gay couple that had invited him to dinner when he was teaching at a church in Michigan. He became friends with this couple. One of the men sang one week in the church choir. When it was discovered that he was gay, he was told he could no longer sing. Michael left shortly after to move to Denver. He admitted that one of his biggest regrets in life was watching silently as this happened.
DCC has never taken a stance one way or another on LGBTQ issues or individuals. But after discussions, they are calling for full inclusion for LGBTQ brothers and sisters and choosing unity over uniformity. Michael apologized to all of his LGBTQ brothers and sisters for not supporting them in the past.
The video stated, “We want our faith community to be for you what it is for everyone—a place where you can bring your full self…where everyone can belong, can contribute, and be open to the transformative work that God wants to do in each of us.” DCC invites everyone to “serve, lead and participate at any and every level within our faith community.”
I’ll be honest, there’s a part of me that doesn’t understand why this is even in question. Perhaps, that is because I have several lesbian, gay, bi and transgender family members and friends in my life. Instead, I am grateful that DCC is committed to educating those who have not had an opportunity to understand and appreciate this amazing group of people…who are just like us. DCC is holding meetings the next four Wednesday evenings to open up the dialog for any members who would like to better understand the LGBTQ community.
We ended in prayer Sunday morning, and a man at the back of the room shouted, “Michael! I have something to say!”
Michael invited him to speak.
Through tears, he said, “I am a gay man. You have touched me today. I have never felt welcomed by a faith community like this. You inspire me to go home today and pick up my Bible again.”
How ironic, or is it, that Sunday was the day that I was drawn back to my church?