The first time we went to an accepting church, it was only curiosity and sheer will-power that got me there.
I felt anxious at even the thought of going to a building of people gathered over belief in anything, and sitting through a service and chatting with people afterwards. I knew why I wanted to go. I had never been to visit an accepting congregation, and I knew they existed and I wanted to see proof. Also, our children had been used to attending church three times a week in the last few years, and I wanted our move to go as smoothly as possible for them, so we looked up an accepting church in our area and decided to go.
On the drive there, Haley and I snap at each other about this or that. When we pull into the parking lot and turn off the car, I can feel the anxiety practically rolling off of her. Almost at the same time, we both take a deep breath. I reach over to take her hand and think out loud, “This is going to be OK. We are just trying this out. Neither of us has to do anything but walk in and walk out. If they are horrible to us, we never have to come back.” We unbuckle the kids from their seats and head for the door. After wandering up and down a few hallways, we are accosted by a sweet older lady who cheerfully introduces herself and walks us downstairs to the nursery room, and then back upstairs to the sanctuary. The kids settle into building block towers and sliding down the small slide and we sit in a pew for the service.
I read through the bulletin and find that the list of church leaders is evenly split between males and females, something I have never seen before. I remember all the stuff I heard about women ruling the liberal church, and how men are emasculated when women step out of their proper place. I sneak a look around the room, there are just as many men as there are women sitting in the pews, and they seem to be happy to be there.
A man plays the piano softly, a candle is lit, a list of prayer requests are read out loud by a young woman who has grown up in this church. I wonder what it would feel like to grow up in a church where you are an equal, allowed to participate and contribute fully, even though you are female. A woman gets up behind the pulpit and begins to speak, it takes me a few minutes to realize that she is one of the pastors here. She gives a quick synopsis of the church’s mission, and concludes by welcoming everyone there, including “those who have not been welcome in another church”. I am surprised by the lump that comes into my throat when she says those words. We are welcome here. I find myself breathing easier, the tenseness in my thighs and back relaxing a bit.
The woman sits down, and a man takes her place behind the pulpit and begins to speak, halfway through the sermon, he trades places with the woman and she gives the rest of the sermon. I find out later that the two are married, and they pastor this church together. They speak of the problem of evil in this world, and how we all have power to do good towards others, or evil towards others, and ask how we can structure our lives so that we can do more good. There is no mocking of other faith groups. There is no list of people or behaviors that make god angry. Just an honest and open asking of how each of us can make that difference in the world, by choosing every day to respect others and show them love. The offering baskets are passed by men and women. The money is designated for a homeless shelter.
At the end of the service, we are invited to stay for soup, and we do. Sitting together at the table, we are a family. No one questions that. Anyone talking with our children refers to us as “your moms”. No one stares at us. No one looks cross-eyed at us. I find myself holding my Hunnie’s hand, and realize that no one looks shocked or disgusted. No one approaches us and requests that we “keep our displays of affection private because they could be confusing for children.” We talk with a single mom with several adopted children, our kids play together. We chat with a couple whose kids are now in college, they have lived in this area for 30 years. The pastor stops by to say hi and shake our hands. People laugh, talk, eat, and shuffle tables and pass out donuts. And I realize I am smiling. There is no fear.
Here, we are just people. We are more than just Queer. We are idividuals, we are parents, we are a couple, we are hard-working. We have a story, we have a life, we have needs and desires just like everyone else. People are interested in where we live, what we do, how we feel. Not a single person asks about our sex life. No one questions our relationship, or tells us that it is not as valuable or as legitimate as theirs. I have never had this experience within the walls of a church. Here, we are not noticed and identified by our existence which many people choose to define as “sin”. We are not ignored, tolerated or treated as “other”.