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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Yesterday was Church Quest visit number two and the destination was James Bay United Church.

welcome-james-bay-united-church

I’ve been inside the building for a number of concerts.  A friend is the music director and he hosts a music series there called a Place to Listen. There is always a sense of quiet welcome when I walk into the building that has made me wonder what it would be like on a Sunday morning.

 

The words on their website have captivated my attention for several years. They talk about church the way it seems like church is meant to be.  When my friend and I started to decide where we would go on this visit, she came across these words and we decided it was the next place for us to go:

It’s a “come as you are” event … no need to dress up unless that’s your delight. Together we’re creating a space in which none of us needs to leave any part of our story behind, nor any hurt or hope at the door. It’s about bringing it all to be met by the love and mercy of God.

The sanctuary is simple with little decoration. My eyes were quickly drawn to something new. There were words clearly displayed on either side of the cross that were repeated on the front of the bulletin.

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We are a Christian community from all walks of life growing in trust that God is up to something beautiful here and now, in and through our lives.

So it is that we seek to be known in the neighbourhood as a place where people are tapped into hope, known and love, inspired to risk new ways, and live with purpose and joy.

Whoever you are, and wherever your journey has taken you, rest assured you will find a welcome here.

I am torn between excitement and cynicism about whether I believe a church can really be that kind of place.

Within moments of sitting down an elderly gentleman comes over to welcome us. He tells us he is not the “official” greeter, but he always likes to make sure he says good morning to everyone. He gets lots of hugs that way which, as he tells us, you need when you get to be his age. It’s obvious a hug would be offered if we were so inclined, but there is no pressure, just welcome.

I’m intrigued by the pastor’s words as she begins the morning announcements. She invites the congregation to continue to be aware of their surroundings. They haven’t been meeting in the sanctuary over the summer.  It sounds like they’ve been on a quest of their own. I am inclined that if this place might become home that I will want to know more of their summertime journey.

There is a familiarity to the service, but it is still different enough to mean that I have to pay attention to the details and can’t just fall into old habits about what worship looks like. It’s been a long time since I’ve been at a worship service led by a female pastor. Her warm welcome at the door as we leave definitely make me think that I may choose to return to this place. When she discovers that my friend and I are both looking for a church home, she doesn’t attempt to “sell” us on her church. She offers a blessing that we will find a place that feels like home and encourages us to keep our eyes and hearts open. She is sure that we will find a place.

There is a warmth and quirkiness to this place that I find engaging. There is a lot of grey and hair and few people who are younger than me and yet it doesn’t feel like a church on its last legs. There is a quiet vibrancy. It feels like a church that is being faithful to its community.

I am drawn to this place. It is not what I thought I was looking for and yet … it does feel like there is potential that I could build a home here. There is one problem though, and not with the church, but with me. As much as I want to find a church that could be home, and a church home means being known and involved, I’m not sure I’m ready for that. As much as part of me misses having a church home, there is part of me that wants a place to worship and figure out faith in anonymity.

 

 

 

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A church for all people in the heart of Victoria. St John the Divine

I’m trying to figure out how to write these posts.

One part of me feels like there should be a format or a rating system or something that at the end of this quest will make it clear what church … wins?

But I don’t think that’s how this quest is going to work. It’s not a quest in the traditional sense; there isn’t a holy grail at the end.  There is a hope that I will find a church that I can call home, but after this morning, it’s really clear to me that the point of this quest is not the end result.  The point of this quest is my willingness to go on this journey.

So don’t expect scores or any conclusions about whether the places we visit are good churches or even anything much about the theology of the sermon. If we stumble onto ones that appear to be LGBTQ affirming but don’t feel that way to us, I’m sure that will be apparent in my thoughts.  This is a place to reflect on the journey.

This morning we decided to attend the 10:00 am Parish Eucharist service at The Church of St. John the Divine. St. John’s hosted Pride Church during Victoria Pride and attending their Pride Church Evensong service was the catalyst that led us to start this quest so it seemed right that our first stop would be there.

I was raised in a Baptist church.  Not the really over-the-top conservative sort, but traditional enough.  The closest that we got to liturgy was the inclusion of an advent wreath at Christmas time.  I did spend time at university with good friends who were Roman Catholic and sometimes attended church with them so that type of liturgy isn’t entirely unfamiliar to me.  But it’s fair to say that my level of comfort with a traditional Anglican liturgy is sketchy at best.

Some of the music was familiar, though the words were different from what I knew.  I loved how their church bulletin made it easy for a “newbie” like me to follow and know what I needed to do.

I had an internal debate about how much to participate in the service.  While faith is important to me, let’s be honest, what I believe in at this point is pretty different from what churches normally espouse.  The thing is, it’s not that I’m certain I don’t believe the more traditional things as well.  I’ve just stopped thinking about them.  I decided to let my heart and mind be open and that I would participate as fully as felt comfortable in the moment.

It was a powerful thing to pray as a whole body, to speak the words:

Almighty God
to you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hidden.

I’ve prayed things like that before, but they’ve never felt so true or so safe.  Those kinds of words used to scare me in ways I didn’t understand.  I didn’t know I was hiding, but I knew being known was terrifying. Today, those words felt healing. Today, those words felt freeing.

While at one level I missed the informality and intimacy of the worship services I used to know, there was something freeing in being in worship that didn’t bring up old baggage exactly because it was so different.

There is a beauty in the language of liturgy.  The care with which every word of the Prayers of the People were chosen. The warmth of the traditional passing of the peace, when it felt clear that the Rector made a point of greeting us even though we were sitting only a few pews from the back of the sanctuary. The kindness of the man sitting behind us when people started moving to receive the Eucharist who provided us with some additional instructions when he saw what I suspect were the human equivalent of “deer in the headlights” looks as we debated which way we should go. The simplicity of the kneeling to be receive the bread and the wine at the altar rail in the small chapel. The quiet words spoken as each element is given.  The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you. The beauty of the stained glass windows with the reminder of one of my favourite passages of scripture.

Come to me all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy, and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke and learn from me for I am gentle and humble hearted and your souls will find relief for my load is light.

Perhaps the most powerful moment was right before the blessing.  I don’t know what it’s called in the liturgy, but hearing these words spoken proudly, enthusiastically, by the people gathered for worship filled me with hope:

We are all people of God

In the heart of Victoria we celebrate Christ
In joyful worship!

We celebrate Christ
By including everyone!

We celebrate Christ
By putting faith into action!

A church that can say that the way they did has the potential to be a place I could call home even though so much is unfamiliar. It doesn’t mean I’ve found a home, it just means that I have a little more faith that one could exist.


If you want to know about Church Quest, I recommend reading the first post in the series. If you have any suggestions about where we should visit on the journey to find a church home that is welcoming and affirming for LGBTQ people, or have stories about your own journey to find a spiritual home, I’d love hear from you in the comments below.

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Pride Church Candles

2016 Pride Church Evensong Candles, St John the Divine, Victoria, BC

And so it begins.

Those seems the right words with which to announce the beginning of a quest.

I admit it’s not a quest I thought I would find myself on. Even a few months ago, the idea of it would have filled me with dread and I would have laughed at anyone who suggested it.  Yet, strangely tonight, knowing that the quest begins tomorrow, I don’t feel anxious.  I feel oddly calm in an excited kind of way.

If you’ve been reading before, you know that I have a … shall we say … problematic relationship with faith for more reasons than I can even begin to count.

It’s a very long time since I’ve been to church.  I’m no longer entirely sure whether I should use the word Christian to describe what I believe. It’s certainly much different from what I was taught to believe as a child or what I taught others to believe as a youth pastor.

I stopped attending church because I couldn’t deal with church politics and pastors on power trips any more. It felt like staying was stealing my soul. Three years ago I figured out I was queer and just over two years ago I decided to come out publicly. Neither of those things made me think I was ever likely to find myself looking for a church home.

And yet, here I am. Tomorrow morning a friend of mine and I are starting a quest to find a church home (or homes) where we feel comfortable and where the church is fully welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people.

I’ve tried to tell myself that faith wasn’t that important to me and that having a faith community to call home didn’t matter to me. The truth is … it does and it always has.

I’m not sure where this quest will lead.

Part of me doesn’t believe that a church home exists for people like me. I’ve spent too much time in Christian circles that preach hate. Too many people who still believe that “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a workable option. Too many people who act like they support LGBTQ people, but really still believe we are damned and going to hell.

Most days I know they are wrong and that God, assuming she exists, is one of love. But some days, those messages of hate are still ingrained in my soul and it feels like spiritual wanderer is destined to describe me forever.

But here’s the thing. I choose to be an optimist. I used to hold tightly to the belief that God can do more than we ask or imagine.

And so it begins, the quest to find a church home.  Maybe I’m on a fool’s errand searching for unicorns and fairy tales.

But maybe, just maybe, there is a church where someone like me feels like they belong.

———

For a whole bunch of reasons, my plan is to write about this quest.  Everything will be categorized under “Church Quest”. If anyone has been on a similar quest and wants to share their wisdom or experiences, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. Also if you live in Victoria, BC and know of LGBTQ affirming churches in the area, feel free to suggest places our quest should include.

BTW, this has never been a problem before, but it does feel important to say this.  This is my blog.  I am proudly queer.  If you’re not okay with that and just want to try to change my mind or convert me, this is probably not a place for you. However, if you are honestly seeking to understand and are willing to engage in respectful dialogue, then you are welcome here.

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I wanted to do this
In my own time
To wait until I was ready
Until I had the answers
Rather than questions
I’m still asking myself

I wanted to do this
When I felt secure
To wait until I’d talked
With those I owe
Deep levels of trust
To share face to face
Or at least Skype to Skype

I wanted to do this
After I’d told my family
To wait until the perfect moment
Had revealed itself
And I was ready for
Every potential response

I wanted to do this
When I knew how to explain
Forty years of truth
Buried so deep
All I knew was brokenness

There is an awkwardness in
Maintaining silence
My safety net of procrastination
Wrapped tightly
Trying to contain the
Chaos of rediscovery

But something happened

Ten thousand children
Thrown away
And my silence feels like complicity
My safety net of waiting
Feels wrapped around my throat
Taking away my breath
Cutting off the words I ache to speak

There is no right time
I may never be ready
I may never be able to explain
There is only the moment now
And in this moment
My safety net must unravel
Else I lose the ability to speak

Heart broken

Ten thousand children
That’s how much some people hate
People who also claim belief in a god
Whose very scriptures teach
Love your neighbour as yourself
Care for orphans and widows
In their distress

Ten thousand children
Starving and in need
Support ripped out from
Under their precious lives
An act of hate
Called righteousness
In the name of protecting
Orthodoxy
From the scourge
Of homosexuality

How can people
Called to be like the god they claim
Who has named himself Love
Hate us at such a price to
Ten thousand children

Tears fall as words flow
Years of learning
Straight was right
Queer was sin
My heart breaks
Am I the only one
Who feels the stab of
Soul-crushing guilt
As if my existence
Is somehow to blame for
Ten thousand children
Dropped in a heartbeat of hatred
When one organization
Makes the tiniest movement
Towards acknowledging our rights
As human beings
Created in the image
Of the divine

This is also the price of hate
But unlike ten thousand children
I have a choice
I will not pay their price
I will not take on that guilt
Being queer does not
Equal broken
Nor does it mean excluded
From the faith of my childhood

I will stand up
I will proudly claim my truth
I will meet their fear
With love
For myself
For the world around me
Even for those who hate
Together may we stand in the gap
For ten thousand innocent children

—–

If you haven’t heard about what happened that caused ten thousand children to lose their sponsors through World Vision in the United States because a powerful group of people who call themselves Christians decided fighting against gay rights was more important than caring for the most vulnerable among us, you can read the details here, here or here, just to point you to a few.

I already sponsor a child through Compassion Canada whom I plan to continue sponsoring until she ages out of the program. I am pondering sponsoring another child through World Vision Canada which follows Canadian laws regarding non-discrimination.

You’re also welcome to visit my other online home at Poeming Out where this will also be posted.

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I’m running late.  It’s my own fault.  I thought I could make one quick stop at the art supply store on my way to my favourite writing spot (also known as one of the many local Starbucks) in order to meet up with my online writing group. Who was I kidding?  I’m never quick in an art supply store.  There are too many awesome, shiny things that I want to touch and take home to try.  Even though I was going in with a specific plan, the chance of me getting distracted is almost 100%.

As I stand in the check-out line, I message my writing group so they’re not wondering where I am.  There are literally only two stoplights between where I was and where I needed to be.  How many red lights did I wait for?  Yup, both of them.

Wishing everything would happen faster, I order, find a table, get my netbook open and logged on while I wait for my chai latte.

I breathe a quiet sigh as I settle in and let my friends know I’ve arrived. The messages go like this …

Me: Made it! =)

Joanna: Wohoo!! Just got off my call seconds before you got here, too 🙂

Me: Nice! makes me think the traffic lights I kept hitting were good, not annoying as I thought.

Joanna: The Universe was conspiring for us!

I did a double take.  Nope she didn’t type “conspiring against us”.  The screen clearly says “conspiring for us”.

The universe was conspiring for us.

??????

The delays at the traffic lights that seemed particularly irksome to me.

What seemed like an unwise choice in thinking I’d be quick stopping at the art supply store to buy supplies for an art project that I was already wondering if I was “good enough” to do.

The universe used those things to make the timing work perfectly?

I breathed it in.

The universe conspired for our benefit.

I felt the subtle tension slip from my shoulders.

My brain started pondering.  I like to think of myself as a glass-half full kind of person.  When did I become the person who thinks the universe is conspiring against us?

Shattered

Unbidden a scripture passage pops into my head.  The words are as clear as the day I memorized it more than 20 years ago.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

Jeremiah 29:11

For almost all of those years, that was my favourite passage of scripture.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I have held those words close to my heart, whispering them silently as a reminder that even when life seemed most difficult that God had plans for me.  I might not understand them.  The map might be hidden in darkness, but there was a plan and the creator of everything wanted what was ultimately best for me.  I trusted that to be true.

Somewhere along the way I stopped trusting.  Anger and hurt eroded trust. Without realizing it was happening, at some level, I stopped believing that the universe was good.  I started responding like the universe was conspiring against us.  I stopped believing that God … Spirit, the Divine, Source, whatever name you call it … is loving and compassionate. I started living like God is capricious and uncaring.

It was easier to pretend like God did not exist. Safer to choose not to believe. Anger and bitterness at God, at the church, have been slowly blanketing how I see the universe.

That’s not the person I want to be.  That’s not the belief I want undergirding my life.

Evening Peace

I believe that the universe is conspiring for us.

I believe that God, by whatever name you call, is compassionate and tender.

I believe that each of us are the Beloved of our creator.

I believe that the Divine wants us to be in relationship, with ourselves, with each other, with Spirit.

Now, I want to remember and rediscover how to live that each day.

What about you?  What do you want to believe and live?

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