A few years ago I was working as the Director of Membership & Ministry at a church in Minneapolis. A big fat Episcopal Cathedral actually, with some smells, a few bells and a rag-tag bunch of delightful people. (I digress.) So what does one with that sort of title do you ask yourself? Basically, I was the Julie McCoy of this Episcopal Love Boat. It was my job to create welcoming spaces, to get others to think about what that might look like, to host membership classes, help connect new people into the life of the congregation. It was a killer job. Mint.
When I interviewed for the job, the head-dude (the Dean) asked me to describe how I understood ‘reconciliation’. Now, the church that I had worked for previously was slightly more – oh how do you say – evangelical. Jeeee-sus, Father G-d, I just wannna thank you sort of prayer was not uncommon in the circles I was around. Not super happy-clappy, but lets say my theological knowledge was underdeveloped, green, a wee bit wet behind the ears as the saying goes. So when I answered his question, about reconciliation, I am SURE that I sounded like a total buffoon. I often think back to that question and time and can hardly believe I got the job, knowing how important this question would be for me, for the ministry in which I served, and how important it is to me now.
My enthusiasm for the church — awesome and awkward, broken and beautiful — consumed me back then. In my job, I met with a lot of people. This past Ash Wednesday I was reminded again of one person who so rocked my understanding of G-d, reconciliation and the sheer mind-blowing power of the Spirit calling out in the depths of my itty bitty heart saying “no really, ALL are welcome. Yes, ALL.”
Lets call him Bob. (all good stories should include a Bob character) Bob had been attending the Cathedral for some time. He had signed up for membership class. He was showing up each Sunday. One day Bob called me and asked if we could meet; he had some concerns. So we met. He told me that he was enjoying the congregation, the worship, the sermons and music. But there was one thing he could not help but notice. He felt like he was the only “conservative” in the church. Specifically, he was really unsettled about the whole “gay issue” and wondering (to borrow some words from Sean Penn) if we were all a bunch of commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns. He said that for the most part he felt welcome, but he was not sure that his voice, his views would be. He didn’t want to hide, and really wanted to be a part of the community. Was it safe for someone like him? Were there others?
Now, here is the thing, I am out. But you might have to talk to me a few times before it naturally comes up in conversation that I am partnered with a woman. If you looked at me your gay-dar may or may not go off, depending on the day. Now, can you imagine? Bob wondering, with me of all people, if I might help him connect with others so he did not feel so alone.
And with every inch of my being, I looked at Bob, and only by that grace of G-d was I able to look at him as G-d might and with love in my heart said “yes, I will help you.” (I will, with G-d’s help.)
I sat behind Bob this past Wednesday, Ash Wendesday, at church. He turned around and greeted me with a smile, warmly, and I greeted him right back — warm and truly heart-felt. Can I tell you, I am so glad that we are both welcome, both belong, are both sinners in need of G-d’s grace and forgiveness.
I just can’t imagine a better way to start and keep a Holy Lent.