So I’m still doing this photo mash-up thing. I don’t really have an explanation for it.
I’ve been trying all week to write about gay church. I finally made it last Sunday. You may remember my first attempt was a fail; got lost with a dead phone. This time I caught a carpool. Arrived intact and early.
You may also remember last time there was concern for gun violence. No one was shot at the service but it is a sign of the times that the door is locked and security cameras are manned/womanned for the duration.
As far as the structure of the service it was typical of most Protestant-style meetings. Singing, announcements, prayers, a solo, a lesson/sermon, and then communion. Communion is held monthly. I just happened to attend on a communion Sunday. I did not partake.
The building was typical of a small-town Protestant-style church anywhere in America. Sanctuary with mini-stage, pulpit, fellowship hall, kitchen, office, and gender-specific bathrooms. In the sanctuary was the standard set-up of pews and such. A piano. A cross with no Christ-body upon it. An American flag. Flowers. A rendering of a male deity on one wall. A rendering a female mother and child deity on another wall. A wooden carving of a dove.
After processing it for a few days I think I should go more than once before I write about it in earnest but I do feel comfortable sharing my first impressions.
They did not pass an offering plate during the service. There was a donation box on a table in the sanctuary. Also prominently displayed in the sanctuary was a designated area for food pantry donations. And it was burgeoning with food donations. When I asked about it I was given a printed list of the charitable projects the church supports with details about each effort and ongoing progress.
The church members took turns leading the different parts of the service. They rotate and/or volunteer for this from week to week. For instance, there are no designated ministers for certain jobs such as a music leader or a preacher. The congregation takes turns doing each job each week. My friend happened to be coordinating the music that week. Another member gave the sermon/lecture. Someone else did the prayer portion. Someone else did announcements. And the next week these jobs are rotated to different volunteers. Each week the members lead in these positions with their own unique style and message as they feel compelled. Volunteers bring their own spirit-led ministry to the task given to them that week, and then the next week the task is passed to someone else with a different ministerial style. This is why I determined I needed to go more than once before forming fair opinions. The presentation is different and unique every week.
As for the preaching it was more like a classroom-style discussion or a TED talk. The lady who spoke started at the pulpit on the stage but then relocated the pew-level floor at the front of the room. It was interactive and humorous as opposed to the somber sermons of my youth. I am told some members offer a traditional, scripture-based lesson while others don’t use scripture at all.
An equal amount of time was given to the joys shared among the congregation as was given to the sorrows. This portion of the service was called Prayer and Praises on the bulletin. When the prayer requests and struggles were shared they were immediately followed by a commensurate amount of praise and gratitude for the joys and successes and wins of the members. Some of these were read from a curated list for the week but members were encouraged to call out or stand and share for both the prayer and praises. They also read aloud the church’s mission statement in unison, and did call and response affirmations. This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is what we do.
Although the church identifies itself as non-denominational, most of the members are older folks who grew up in Christianity, so the service was heavily seasoned as such. But there was no altar call or emphasis on getting saved, baptized, redeemed, whatever. I don’t think I heard the word sin mentioned at all. No hellfire and brimstone. No mention of Satan or demonic forces. Every message was positive, uplifting, supportive, and loving. For real, y’all, these people poured on the love. I think everyone in the church hugged me. And each other. Upbeat, joyful, and friendly. I heard more than one member describe the congregation as a family with a strong focus on taking care of each other.
The congregants dressed casually. I saw everything from dresses to jeans to shorts. The attitude was come as you are. I noticed there didn’t seem to be the typical gaggle of church ladies competing with each other. No one seemed to be showing off. No cliques or power people. No bling or glamour on display. Comfortable shoes and clothes. Although I heard mention of council members, no one person was running the show. No deacons. No elders. Everyone was on the same level. Since the women heavily outnumbered the men the women led the majority of the service. I heard six women speak or sing. I heard one man.
So what was gay about it? The people. Gay folks who’d been together a long time. Gay folks who were married. Gay folks recently engaged. Gay folks with kiddos. Gay folks who were single at the moment. Gay folks who brought a companion. Arms around. Hands held. All the things readily observed in a conventional church service; these couples just happened to be the same gender. Most remarkable was that the congregation was about 85% senior citizens. These were mostly old gay folks. Wrinkled, reverent, respectful, rejoicing.
People of color? Yes. Oh yes. A rainbow of skintones. Pun intended.
Emotions other than happyhappy joyjoy? The full gamut. One member cried as he asked for help. Bravely admitted he was struggling. A safe place to be in need; many rushed to comfort him. People left their seats to circle up and soothe him. I cried before the service began. When my friend left me alone to assume her volunteer duties I sat silently exploring why I felt so nervous. Anxious. I was confounded by these feelings because I’m a decorated veteran of church. Half a life. The pianist warmed up. I recognized the song she played. Tears were triggered. Memories. Wounds. Scars. I realized how much old trauma I have with church, about church, because of church. Church used to hurt. I’d forgotten.
Update: I took so long to finish this that another Sunday came around and I went back. This time I went alone but I sat with my friend again. I got to hear a different message/sermon because as I mentioned, the speaker is different every week. I saw a different cast of volunteers leading the different parts of the service. Different music. Different flavor. But same caring atmosphere by the people, for the people. Hugs again. I did not stay for the potluck because potlucks suck for vegans but I walked away smiling. It made me happy that these folks would stay to nourish and nurture each other. Gay or straight, that’s good medicine.
So my takeaway after two Sunday sessions? Gay church does not hurt.