My name is Mark Hipps-Figgs. I am a member of Calvary-Resurrection UMC Parish. I joined the church when I was a freshman in college. I am a part of the church today because of a volleyball game at the back of Wesley Foundation at Western Carolina University, in Cullowhee, NC. I stumbled into that volleyball game at a time when I had low self-esteem and was accustomed to being made fun of because of my size, bad acne, or general lack of coordination. The expression, “not able to walk and chew gum at the same time” was written with me in mind.
I was welcomed into that game, and into that church community, regardless of who I was or how bad my volleyball skills were. I was invited into a vespers service following the game. That night I prayed to God for the first time, and he/she/they have been a part of my life ever since.
The Methodist Church I experienced then and, for the most part ever since, has been a Church that loved and nurtured me and allowed me to thrive as I figured out who I was. I spent a large part of my young adult life trying to be who society, and my family, thought I should be. Once I came out to myself and to the rest of the world, I was lucky to be surrounded by people in the church who loved me; first at Lakewood UMC, then Sanctuary, then Calvary, and now Calvary-Resurrection.
Right now, the Methodist Church, in the Big Church sense, is unrecognizable to me. Locally, I still see John Wesley and the table that is welcome to everyone. A part of me has grown very weary and wants to leave. However, as I have said from the pulpit, “This is my church, and you will have to drag me kicking and screaming from this sacred ground.”
I, like all of you, am of sacred worth, and I don’t apologize for who I am and who I am becoming. God is not done with me yet, nor is God done with the Methodist Church.
When my husband Maxie and I were married in Calvary UMC 3.5 years ago, we were lucky to be surrounded by a room full of people who loved and supported us. Three Methodist ministers chose to risk their careers to support us. When I announced to the overflowing church after the service that everyone in the room was guilty of aiding and abetting the breaking of church law, the entire church burst out in spontaneous applause. Our family, friends, and colleagues cheered their newfound criminal status.
This moment and so many others are why we stay. When we first asked the Methodist church to allow our wedding, many people asked me why I was going through the heartache and headache of being told no or having to “plead” our case to get approval for what my heteronormative friends take for granted as their God given right.
My response was simple: “I can’t sit on the sidelines and complain. If I am not willing to fight for my rights and my place in the church and society, how can I expect anyone else to fight for me?“
I am not going anywhere.