This past week end my partner Dean and I visited a new church. I find it extremely challenging to visit new places. I am a bit of an introvert, even with – or particularly with – church folks. Coffee hour, for me, can be a gradient enactment of Dante’s Inferno. Hordes of marauding, coffee wielding strangers, with cookie crumbs on their lips, terrify me. Dean is just the opposite. Dean is charming and funny in new social situations. I’ve never known him not to be able to jump into a conversation. A trait I am very grateful for. In contrast, in new church meet and greets, my first instinct is to hide in a bathroom stall until it is all over , or run to the car as soon as service is over.
Once I get to know and trust people, I’m better, and will talk up a storm if engaged in topics I find of interest. I really stink at “chit chat.” Being aware of this personal challenge, I do try to compel myself to do engage in pleasantries. Much of this intentional engagement has been resultant of various leadership roles I have filled over the years, but “connecting” is not my initial, natural inclination. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I still catch myself abruptly ending conversation in order to flee, as I break out in a palpitating, cold sweat as a result of prolonged interaction.
There are even times when I cannot handle too much social stimulation from those I love dearly. At such times, I need to bolt myself in a metaphoric tower with a pile of books and one of the dogs. In some ways I find my introversion strange. I really like people. It just takes me a bit. Sometimes my introversion annoys me. I have no problem speaking, teaching, preaching, or publicly facilitating, but meeting new people, particularly church folks, can produce a good deal of apprehension. It may be, perhaps, that focused, purposeful tasks, function better for me than free flowing personal contact. I do best getting to know people when engaged in a shared activity. I also need extroverts to facilitate initial engagement because I sure as heck won’t do so.
For the most part, we introverts can have a hard time when trying to find a new faith community. When you add this interactive wariness the difficulty of overcoming broken trust in church communities in general, finding a new church can be overwhelming. As I have written about elsewhere and often, as a Christian gay man, I have a rather checkered history with the church. As a spiritual abuse survivor, trust is always an issue very close to the surface. For the last couple of years Dean and I have been attending a United Methodist church relatively close to our home. I discovered this congregation on line and it seemed to be “welcoming” of LGBT persons.
The pastor was a great preacher and welcoming. I really appreciated the liturgical practices, and seeming Eucharistic spirituality, of this community. Unfortunately, many in the congregation were not at a place to include Dean and me in the life of the church. To be clear, they did not hold us down and try to cast gay demons from us (as happened to me as a younger person in Pentecostal circles) but hurtful shunning happened enough where Dean was at the point of not wanting to return to church- period. We talked about leaving the Methodist church behind.
In the aftermath of General Conference a good many LGBTQIA Methodists are sorting through the “what next” questions.
It is still a bit overwhelming. The constant on line discussion between the various camps within The United Methodist Church has become a sort of white noise. It’s all still too raw. It can be a bit confusing. I can hear a bit of the centrist voice, I can agree with the rationale of the progressive voice, the phrase, “kick the can down the road,” has become so familiar, as valid as it may be, that I can barely hear it. Sometimes, I just don’t feel capable of full discernment at this point. I have no idea what the future will bring. People will have to make very personal, life changing, decisions and will just need a whole lot of love, with no unintended guilt imposed.
This is the decision Dean and I have come to…
For a few years now, I have recognized how deeply grounded in the ethos of Methodism, my spiritual life is. One of my deepest desires has been to re-connect with my Methodist heritage. I am not ready to let go of this yearning. So, Dean and I found a full Reconciling United Methodist Church. Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) is a ministry which advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQI persons within The United Methodist Church. RMN describes itself as envisioning, “a renewed and vibrant Wesleyan movement that is biblically and theologically centered. As committed disciples of Jesus Christ, the Reconciling Ministries Network strives to transform the world by living out the Gospel’s teachings of grace, love, justice and inclusion for all of God’s children.”
The Reconciling congregation we visited this past weekend is a bit of a drive for us (over an hour, but less if Dean is driving).
It is worth it.
We came very close to giving up on United Methodism, recently. I found I am not ready to move on. So we are giving it another go. This past Sunday, the pastor of the Reconciling Congregation we visited made a point to tell Dean and I how important being a Reconciling Congregation is to this group of believes. This meant a great deal to us. In the last couple of years we have learned by experience that there is a conceptual world of difference between “welcoming” and “affirming “congregations. When we got home, after ducking out on coffee hour, we found that a wonderful choir member had left us a sweet message on our Facebook page, based on our “check in” at the church. A really good sign.
We will be going back next week to worship.
In the aftermath of General Conference, people are examining their hearts and options, for us, we have decided to find a Reconciling Congregation. I am not sure of the future. This might be our last shot with United Methodism. We will see. All I know – I’m not ready to let go of this desire for reconciliation. This seems to be the bottom line for me, if reconciliation between the various UMC factions happens in the next 2-4 years, or even a new configuration emerges, I want to be there with Dean. It may be just a view from Mount Pisgah by the end of the journey, but I at least want the view.
“When I was young I was sure of everything; in a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before; at present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”
- Finding A Reconciling Congregation: An Introvert’s Tale - June 4, 2016
- Our sacramental union changed our lives forever - April 29, 2016
- No ecclesiastical decision can separate us from the love of Christ - February 1, 2016