About a year ago, Rachel Held Evans posed a question about church stories on her blog as she was writing her new book, Searching for Sunday. I wrote this essay and left it. A few days ago, a conversation occurred that reminded me of it. As I reread, I realized nothing much has changed. I’m still so grateful for our community and the journey that brought us here.
Frank and I met on a snowshoe hike through the evangelical church we were both attending at the time. Over the course of the hike, we learned that I attended the evening service near my apartment and Frank attended the morning service at the more neighborhoody location. The next Sunday, as people were filing back to their seats after communion, I spotted Frank and gave a small, communion-appropriate wave.
Over our months of dating, our church made some changes to its leadership and soon hiking and camping took the place of showing up on Sundays.
After our wedding, we decided we needed to put down roots with a church community. Frank grew up Catholic and I attended an Anglican church during college and had tried an Episcopal church for about a year after I moved to Denver. Liturgical services had given me a refreshment from the seeker-friendly view I grew up with. We had gone through premarital counseling at a nearby Catholic church known for its showtune-esque liturgy, so decided to start attending.
In the meantime, Mark, the pastor who married us through the church we met in, had started a new location in a trendy neighborhood. We loved Mark and his philosophy, so we decided to attend the monthly meeting at an old movie theater. We tried attending both churches, sometimes on the same day, other times alternating.
I became exhausted, running around. I felt stretched, unable to truly get involved, yet unsure where I wanted to settle and in what kind of community I wanted to start a family. We started talking more and more about the pros and cons of each church.
About two or three months in, Mark made a big announcement to his congregation: After much thought and prayer, he and the leadership had decided to make the church all inclusive. LGBTQ attendees had always been welcome, but with the restrictions of not getting involved in leadership. Mark talked about how that didn’t fit in with his view of scripture and Jesus’ radical claim to redeem this world through love.
On our drive home, we were faced with where we stood on the “gay issue.” Was this a clear sign we should switch to the Catholic church full time? What did we think about a truly radical, everyone-is-welcome theology? I had never really examined my feelings on this particular subject.
Then, we began talking about our future children. What if one of them was gay? What message did we want to instill in our children’s worldview? Did we believe being gay is a sin? The phrase, “love the sinner but hate the sin” had never settled well with me, and I didn’t want to teach that attitude to my children.
After lots of processing and praying and more processing, we decided to commit to Highlands Church. Highlands is rooted in the evangelical framework. From time to time, we enjoy liturgical aspects, but there are times when I miss the common prayers, focus on images, and other elements I had grown to love in the Anglican and Catholic traditions. I had to process the return to my childhood denomination, especially with its decline in popularity.
Our first small group found us as the only straight couple. It was eye-opening being in the minority and doing life and community with amazingly committed, involved Christians. Their strong faith reminded me of the conservative church I grew up in, but somehow without the labels of who we can love and accept.
Now, five years later, we laugh that it was even an issue. Really? We thought we had to pray about whether or not someone could serve at church? I cringe a bit at my journey but am so grateful we are in community that utilizes, embraces, and celebrates every congregant’s gifts. I am grateful that Bea loves going to church and is so loved by a community just for being her – without any other expectations or definitions. I am grateful for our friendships and all we have learned from our community.
Even though it seems so uncool to say I go to an evangelical church, I look at the pioneering work Mark and our other pastor, Jenny are doing. I see how they are laying a foundation for future churches to change, to embrace, to accept with grace.
What type of church did you grow up in? Do you still attend a similar denomination? What are some changes you’ve discovered along your faith journey?