Posts Tagged ‘open and affirming churches’

Sorry for my lack of posting for the last few weeks.  Life has been crazy.  I will get back to my regular updates shortly.  But today I want to pause and add this post as a part of The More Excellent Way blog carnival on the subject of “inclusion”.

I am in my 40’s and have been “in the closet” for most of my life.  I lived a straight life, got married, had kids, and have been a pastor for 17 years.  All along, though, I knew I was gay.  But the message that I got from churches and from seminary was that being gay is not ok…and therefore I had to do whatever it took for me not to live as a gay man.  During the past 20+ years, I have silently struggled, constantly trying to suppress my sexuality so that I could be a “good Christian”, a pastor with integrity, and a husband and father.  Unfortunately, the result is that I ended up depressed, withdrawn, and acting out in unhealthy ways because I was trying to be something that I was not…straight!  You can only suppress your identity for so long before it affects your emotional health in negative ways.  My negative emotional health crippled me, my marriage, my parenting, my relationships, and my ministry.

18 months ago, I began a journey towards emotional health.  With the help of a counselor, I came to grips with my identity, my sexual orientation, and how living a lie has caused tremendous damage to me, my family, and my ministry.  As a result, I have recently quit my job at a large Evangelical church in our area, had to find new employment, am moving out next week, and will be getting divorced from my wife.  After so many years in the closet, I am now beginning to live a new life out of the context of who I believe God created me to be.  There has been tremendous cost to become who I already was…but I now believe it was worth it so that I can be true to myself and how I am wired.

I am in the process of planting a new church that is radically inclusive and I have found that there are many people in our city who have been a part of conservative Evangelical churches and have suffered a similar lack of emotional health due to the lack of a message of inclusivity in those churches.  Many are very wounded by the lack of acceptance…and even downright rejection…that they have felt.  It is so sad that so many of us have had to live a lie because we couldn’t be accepted a Christians in any other way!

I often wonder how my life would have been different, had full inclusion for the LGBT community been a value in churches 20 years ago.  While I am thankful for the blessings that have come out of the last 20 years of my life, I know that the pain and damage done could have been avoided if I had had even one Christian tell me that I was ok.  If only I had known that God loved me just the way I was!  If only I had learned that I could be gay AND a pastor!  If only.

My new little church plant seeks to be inclusive of everyone.  I pray that other people’s lives will be touched by the message of Grace that I hope we always communicate.  And maybe…just maybe…a life will be saved from the damage that I had to go through in the past 20 years.

Full inclusion of the LGBT community in Christian churches can LITERALLY save lives from the irreparable damage that is caused when a person tries to suppress who they are for the purpose of acceptance by God and other Christians.  While people my age can’t go backwards to fix the past, we can certain fix the future for the sake of our brothers and sisters who desperately need to know they are loved by God and others!

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I have to tell you, I have really found my niche.  It feels really good and it is very energizing!  I am excited to see where this all leads.  For me, being a pastor of an evangelical church that is open and affirming is the niche I really believe I was created for!

Several years ago, I felt “called” to reach out to the gay community and to minister in the gay community.  But because of where my life was at that time, as well as my belief at that time that homosexuality was a sin, I never acted on that call.  I knew it was something God had put on my heart but I didn’t know how to step out and do it.  Now…I am doing it.

My new church is still small.  Because I have not officially come out yet, I can’t really do any advertising other than word of mouth.  But our church is growing, slowly but surely.  And it feels so right and so natural to be a pastor to the people God has brought.  I get to be my 100% authentic self and don’t have to hide or put on a mask.  I get to minister out of what God has done in my life and who He has created me to be.  I am finding that it is SO NATURAL to love the people God has brought to this church!  We have nothing to hide from each other so there is a freedom to be ourselves and to love each other just for who we are.  I appreciate them and they appreciate me.  We support each other.  We laugh and have fun.  And most importantly, we pursue God together.  No one is telling me how to do my job because I don’t get a paycheck (yet) from the church.  So I can just do my thing…honestly and authentically…out of the love that God has poured into my heart for these people.

Regardless of anything else going on in my life right now, I love my new church…and I love that I have found my niche!

A little over a week ago, I had a totally gay day.  Like…totally gay.  My whole day was gay.  It was my big fat gay day!

It was a Sunday and I had the day off from my church.  I decided that I would go and visit our local Metropolitan Community Church.  If you aren’t familiar with the MCC churches, they are a denomination whose main focus is reaching the gay community.  I was told that I should try go and visit there at least one time, so I decided that this would be the day.  Now this may seem funny, but I walked into that church and felt a bit out of place.  You see, I have never been around so many gay people in my life!  And that actually kinda freaked me out!  There was a 70ish lesbian couple that sat a few rows in front of me cuddling through the whole service.  There was a transgendered woman sitting across the aisle from me.  And there were lots of gay couples and single gay men greeting each other with a “holy kiss”.  There I was, the guy in the process of coming out of the closet, and I’m surrounded by a wide variety of gay people who are Christians, and I felt like a fish out of water.  But I kept my cool, tried to learn from the experience, and participated in the service.

Now the interesting thing was the range of thoughts running through my head the whole time.  I could write forever about the different observations and thoughts I had of the church but I won’t bore you with that.  But I will say that the most interesting thing going through my head was that I was checking out the other men at the church and comparing myself to them.  This is nothing new…I have compared myself to other men no matter where I go.  For my whole life, I have compared myself to other men and ultimately felt “less than” in most cases.  But I experienced something new that day.  I looked at the other men in that church and for the first time, I felt “more than”.  For the first time in my life, I felt more manly.  I felt like more of a man than the other men there.  And quite frankly, I didn’t know what to do with that.  More on that in a minute.

Later that day, I went to my new church plant.  We had some new people that day and both were lesbians.  Honestly, I never been around lesbians at all so this whole lesbian thing that day was very new to me.  Turns out, these gals are gospel singers!  So spur of the moment, we end up having them sing a gospel duet at our little gathering.  As they were singing, I sat there, again, with tons of thoughts going through my head.  The overwhelming thought I had was, “Oh my gosh…where the heck am I?  I’m sitting in a new church where I’m the pastor and two lesbians are singing country gospel.  How the heck did I get here?”

It was, quite simply, a day with overwhelming new experiences.  I am so new at all of this gay stuff!

So at the end of my big fat gay day, I had this feeling of uncertainty.  Maybe it’s because all of this is so new.  But I had this huge feeling that I just don’t know where I fit.  I don’t totally fit in the “straight world” but I really don’t feel like I fit yet in the “gay world”.  I feel in-between.  I know that feeling will change over time as I get more accustomed to being around the greater gay community in our area.  But for now, I just feel like I’m a wanderer.  I don’t know where home is.  I don’t want to feel “more than” or “less than”.  I want to feel at home…like I belong…like it’s all comfortable.

I hope I feel that way soon.

Just a quick update. I am planting a church! It seems that there are no positions in affirming denominations locally…and there doesn’t seem to be any money for church planting either. So I’ve decided that I’m just gonna start. I already have several people who have expressed interest so I’m just going to dive in and do it. AND…I’m going to start this on the side while I keep my current pastoral position. So I’m going to be juggling quite a bit over the months to come.

So there you have it…my direction for the future has been set! I will share more in the weeks to come. But for now, you are welcome to follow the blog I have started for the new church. Here is the link: Church For All

More soon!

So what does a pastor do when he is in a conservative church and realizes that he really needs to come out of the closet?  It’s not an easy choice.  Being a pastor in a conservative church is one of the few professions in the world where your job is in jeopardy if you decide to come out of the closet.  So keep your job and live a lie?  Or live the truth, knowing that you will no longer have a job and that will GREATLY impact your family?

This is what I am currently going through.  My wife and I have decided that we will not do anything regarding our future until I have a new job.  Great idea, right?  Well, I just limited my job prospects by accepting the fact that I’m gay.  And it also isn’t a very good economy right now so jobs are few and far between anyway!  So I am definitely fighting an uphill battle.

I have been looking at denominations that are open and affirming to see if any of them would be a good fit for me.  My options are few:  Metropolitan Community Churches, Episcopal Churches, United Churches of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Churches, some Presbyterian Churches, and the Disciples of Christ.  In looking at these options, I decided that the Disciples of Christ was the denomination that would be the best fit for me theologically. Also, many of the other denominations would require additional schooling or apprenticeships in their churches before I could officially be ordained with them.  So I pursued the Disciples of Christ.

In the last week, I have had two meetings with leaders from the Disciples of Christ.  The short version of the story is that they want to welcome me with open arms…I would just need to go through the process of having my ordination affirmed with them.  The problem is that there are no open positions in any of their churches in my state or in the state just south of me.  There might be some open positions 6 months from now but that would require me to move 2-3 hours north…and I’m just not willing to do that right now.  I need to stay close to my family.  Also, I found out that they have no dollars for starting new churches.  So essentially, if I want to affiliate with them right now, it would take starting a new church and finding funding for my salary somewhere else.  Not good.

I am not giving up, though.  I really feel called to lead a church that is a progressive Evangelical church and is open/affirming of the gay community.  So now I am going to look into other options for funding such a work.  It is a bit discouraging but I have to trust that God will provide…somehow.

Will you please pray with me in all of this???

 

Just a quick update to let you know what is going on…

After meeting with my counselor this past week, my wife and I have decided to share what is going on with our two oldest children during the Spring Break (which is in about two weeks).  I have a crush of emotions when thinking about beginning to tell my kids.  We will wait to tell our youngest at a later date.  Please pray as we move into the next phase of everything by bringing the kids up to speed.  I’m praying for understanding!

Another big thing is happen in two weeks as well:  I will be meeting with the regional minister for the denomination I am hoping to connect with in the future.  I have already shared very generally with the Regional Minister what is going on in my life and she seems hopeful about everything.  I am praying for a ministry opportunity that would allow me to stay in the general area in which I live…whether that be an established church or a new church plant.  I’d appreciate your prayers for that meeting as well.

Over all, I am in a holding pattern at the moment until these two big things take place.  I will keep you all updated as things begin to unfold more!

 

Where are things now?  I’ve been asked that a few times in the past couple of days.  So here is a very straight-forward answer on what is going on in the present…

1)  Things between my wife and me are pretty good.  A few nights ago she told me, “When you told me the truth about everything, all of the anger and resentment I had towards you went away.  It all makes sense now and I can’t hold things against you anymore.”  Pretty huge, huh?  So for the past few nights, life around our house has been calm…and my wife has actually been kind of warms towards me.  Who would have thought?

2)  We have decided that we are not going to decide anything right away.  We are allowing things to “simmer”.  My wife stated that she is prepared to live our lives together the way things are.  She is a creature of habit and she likes things comfortable rather than to rock the boat.  Change doesn’t come easy for her.  So while I get the comfortability factor (we HAVE been together for 19 years), I also expressed to her that I don’t want either of us to regret 10 years from now that we stayed together.  I don’t want us to live unfulfilled forever.  We love each other…but we can’t fulfill each other.  Is that good enough?  Some would encourage us to say “yes”.  I don’t know.  I did tell her that I am not making any decisions on my own.  Whatever we decide, I want us to decide together.  If we both agree and both have peace about whatever is decided, then I will know it is the right thing.  So we are just sitting on things right now and letting it all simmer.

3)  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are completely aware of what is going on.  They are being supportive of me…and both of us.  I am thankful for that.  My wife wants to talk to her parents.  We will probably do that in a few weeks.

4)  I met with a representative from another denomination today.  It is the denomination that I was counting on for a future ministry opportunity because the denomination is open and affirming of gay pastors.  I found out that not only are there no open positions in this area, but there are also no funds available for starting a new church.  So cross that one off.  😦

5)  I have one other denomination that I will look into right away.  I know of a gay pastor in that denomination but I am not sure if they are completely accepting of gay clergy.  I am hopeful.  If that is a closed door, there is only one other denomination I will consider and they are still battling the issue of homosexuality, though I know there are gay pastors in that denomination.  We’ll see.

In all of this, it seems that I’m in this land of limbo…and that’s ok.  Time will make everything clear.  I’d appreciate your prayers in all of this!

And one other thing:  thank you to everyone reading this who I know personally.  Your support and care for me through all of this is much appreciated.  Some of you are praying and hoping I will stay in my marriage and current ministry.  Others are praying and hoping for the opposite.  Regardless of where you stand on this, you have all shown me love and support.  And for that, I am truly grateful!