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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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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Since the beginning of February I’ve been reading a poem a day from Mary Oliver’s collection Thirst.

Today I read these words in a poem called “After Her Death”.

… I have not

forgotten the Way, but, a little,

the way to the Way. The trees keep whispering

peace, peace, and the birds

in the shallows are full of the

bodies of small fish and are

content. They open their wings

so easily, and fly. So. It is still

possible.

I can’t really comprehend her experience of grief at the death of a beloved partner of over forty years.  That hasn’t been my story. 

But that phrase about forgetting the way to the Way?  That I understand.

From that, I feel the grief of something lost, of someone gone, or losing a sense of self that was closely tied to the thing that is missing, of feeling adrift, without anchor. But it wasn’t another person I lost. 

It was a dream.  An understanding of who I was meant to be. A faith to which I struggled to cling. It was all I knew of me.

Some would say I’ve lost my way.  One dear friend has decided that we can longer be friends because I don’t believe the same way.

And yet in that losing, I have found something new.  

Pink Rose Close-Up

I have journeyed with so many wonderful people who have reminded me …

That I am loved and worthy of love.

That there is beauty in the world around me and within me.

That to live is to create even if it is done in the tiniest of steps.

That peace can always be found in the midst of a single breath.

That there is no need to hide and pretend I am someone I no longer am.

That there are new adventures waiting before me.

That there is strength in gentleness and boldness in softening.

That I may choose to enjoy solitude but I am never truly alone.

That surrender doesn’t mean losing everything, it may actually mean finding everything of value.

That the questions are meant to be lived not feared.

That there is freedom and delight in movement.

That community can be found in the most unlikely of places.

That kindred spirits really do exist.

That there are many paths to find the Way.

That joy and faith and hope and love will always remain.

If I could, I would list you all by name, but I fear I would run out of space and even more that I would somehow miss the name of even one of you. I’d give you all flowers, but there aren’t enough meadows.

Instead, let me simply say I love you muchly. Thank you, most of all, for reminding me that it is still possible.

Dark Pink Gerber Daisy

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Beauty in things

There are so many awesome things to be found on the internet.  Here’s what been inspiring me and making me smile lately.

  1. After so many years of feeling like I always failed the “good Christian quiet time test”, I love Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project. I’ve finally found a meditation practice that feels like it fits who I am.
  2. I know I’ve mentioned Michael Nobbs’ Sustainably Creative website before.  I love his One Thing Today podcasts.  They’re my favourite listening on my way to work in the morning.  You can listen to his 400th podcast here. I also can’t wait for my pre-ordered copy of his new book Drawing Your Life to arrive.  Love the video he made to celebrate its pending publication.
  3. I had the pleasure of meeting Kristin Noelle last summer.  I love her artwork and Trust Tending is a fabulous place to find inspiration. Each week she has an giveaway of one of her drawings.  I won this one and one of my tasks this weekend was hanging it up in my bedroom, right where I will see it every morning as I wake up and every evening before I go to sleep.
  4. Don’t remember who pointed me in the direction of this list, but I think I actually cheered out loud when I read 25 Things You Don’t Have to Justify to Anyone.
  5. If you’ve seen pictures of my niece’s hedgehog Oliver, you know why I have to try making these adorable hedgehog cookies the next time she’s here for a visit.
  6. I love the community of women who are part of Flock. Rachelle Mee Chapman has created a beautiful and safe space that has played a huge part in me finding the spiritual practices that make sense to me. I’m loving our practices for February and her new Relig-ish series of videos.

What are you loving?

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