Category Archives: Blog

Holy Week 2017 Pastoral Call to Fast and Pray

You may be asking why we encourage an annual fast at our church. Our history is that we first started doing it 14 years ago. And for the last five years we have attempted to make our fast more focused on the work God would have us do as a church.

Throughout these past five years we have continued to focus our prayers on our church and its direction — on how to better do the work God has laid out for us.

We have had significant growth in outreach to the community and to God’s people. The miracle stories seem to happen at a dizzying pace. As we celebrate our 19th anniversary, as we celebrate our past and present, we will look to our future.

Now that this church is beginning its 20th year of ministry, the pastoral staff and I have been moved by God’s spirit to again call for a day of “Fasting and Prayer”. I pray that all of you consider joining with Vicar Alyce, Lance and me in this fast. I will be at the park on Saturday the 15th to pray and fast and offer support for any who would like to join me from 10am till 2:30pm.

It is only with your support that we have become a church that is affirming, inclusive and progressive in our ministry, and it is only with your help and prayer that it can continue. Please consider joining us — either in person with us in the park, or at a location of your choosing.

Here are the details of our time of prayer and fasting: I will lead us through the day; others are invited to help as well. If you have small children don’t let that stop you from participating, let us know you intend to be there and we will get child care for the main part of the fast and prayer on Saturday. If you have a signed “covenant” with the church I appeal to you to participate in this sacred and holy time of reflection and seeking God’s direction for this fellowship.

Church Fast
Individually we will be encouraging folks to focus on the question of “How do I experience freedom?” For instance:

    1. How does this translate for you in the life of Gentle Spirit Christian Church? What freedoms have you experienced?
    2. What can each of us do to support these freedoms through our vision and mission?
    3. What do we need to do as individuals to continue to live as free and spiritual people?

Collectively we will be praying and seeking God’s guidance in the following area:

In times of searching we have examples in the Bible of others calling for prayer and fasting to set themselves aside for God and to determine God’s leading. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. Jesus set himself aside to better/more clearly hear God speak and direct Jesus in all that he needed to do. We are no different in this church. We need God’s direction and wisdom to clearly speak to us.

We are setting aside Easter weekend to put ourselves aside and concentrate on God, to allow God to speak with each of us and to all of us as a church. Our church will start our period of fasting and prayer at Good Friday services on April 14th at 7pm with First Christian Church of Decatur and end it at our Easter (Freedom Sunday) Sunrise Service at on April 16th at 7:06am in Candler Park, picnic Pavilion 2.

Our schedule:

  • Maundy Thursday Service on April 13th at 6:30pm at First Christian Church of Decatur, with Unity Fellowship.
  • Good Friday Service on April 14th at 7pm with First Christian Church of Decatur at the foot of the Cross on the front lawn.
  • Holy Saturday Fasting and Prayer on April 15th from 10am-2:30pm in Candler Park, near picnic Pavilion 2.
  • Easter (Freedom Sunday) Sunrise Service on April 16th at 7:06am in Candler Park, picnic Pavilion 2, followed by a potluck breakfast cookout.
  • Easter Sunday Celebration Service on April 16th at 10:30am with First Christian Church of Decatur, in their main sanctuary.

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org.

The Road to Freedom: Free to Come to the Table

Lenten Study for April 5, 2017. Part six of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.


Readings:

On the first of the Days of Unleavened Bread, the day they prepare the Passover sacrifice, his disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations so you can eat the Passover meal?”

He directed two of his disciples, “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him. Ask the owner of whichever house he enters, ‘The Teacher wants to know, Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare for us there.”

The disciples left, came to the city, found everything just as he had told them, and prepared the Passover meal.

After sunset he came with the Twelve. As they were at the supper table eating, Jesus said, “I have something hard but important to say to you: One of you is going to hand me over to the conspirators, one who at this moment is eating with me.”

Stunned, they started asking, one after another, “It isn’t me, is it?”

He said, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who eats with me out of the same bowl. In one sense, it turns out that the Son of Man is entering into a way of treachery well-marked by the Scriptures—no surprises here. In another sense, the man who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man—better never to have been born than do this!”

In the course of their meal, having taken and blessed the bread, he broke it and gave it to them. Then he said,

Take, this is my body.

Taking the chalice, he gave it to them, thanking God, and they all drank from it. He said,

This is my blood,
God’s new covenant,
Poured out for many people.

“I’ll not be drinking wine again until the new day when I drink it in the kingdom of God.”

They sang a hymn and then went directly to Mount Olives. Mark 14:12-26

Regarding this next item, I’m not at all pleased. I am getting the picture that when you meet together it brings out your worst side instead of your best! First, I get this report on your divisiveness, competing with and criticizing each other. I’m reluctant to believe it, but there it is. The best that can be said for it is that the testing process will bring truth into the open and confirm it.

And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord’s Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can’t believe it! Don’t you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God’s church? Why would you actually shame God’s poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I’m not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said,

This is my body, broken for you.
Do this to remember me.

After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:

This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.
Each time you drink this cup, remember me.

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt. 1 Corinthians 11:17-26

The Road to Freedom: Free To Do The Work

Lenten Study for March 29, 2017. Part five of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.

Readings:

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:31-40

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously —
take God seriously. Micah 6:8

The Road to Freedom: Free to Define Your Relationship with God

Lenten Study for March 15, 2017. Part three of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.

Reading:

The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans).

The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?”

Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,
Ditching God’s command
and taking up the latest fads.”

He went on, “Well, good for you. You get rid of God’s command so you won’t be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions! Moses said, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel out of that by saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to say to father or mother, ‘Gift! What I owed you I’ve given as a gift to God,’ thus relieving yourselves of obligation to father or mother. You scratch out God’s Word and scrawl a whim in its place. You do a lot of things like this.”

Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”

When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, “We don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”

Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you? It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed.” (That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)

He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”

24-26 From there Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house there where he didn’t think he would be found, but he couldn’t escape notice. He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter.

He said, “Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”

She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”

Jesus was impressed. “You’re right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone.” She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good.

Then he left the region of Tyre, went through Sidon back to Galilee Lake and over to the district of the Ten Towns. Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man’s ears and some spit on the man’s tongue. Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, “Ephphatha!—Open up!” And it happened. The man’s hearing was clear and his speech plain—just like that.

Jesus urged them to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, beside themselves with excitement. “He’s done it all and done it well. He gives hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless.” Mark 7

The Road to Freedom: Free To Believe God Loves Me

Lenten Study for March 8, 2017. Part two of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.

Readings:

By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story. Luke 15:1-3

Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” Luke 15:11-32

This Generation Has a Purpose

“How does it feel to be the first generation to not have a purpose?”

These words were the equivalent of a slap across the face to me. They were coming out of the TV, out of the mouth of an actor playing Cleve Jones, a lion of the TLGBQIA movement who was a contemporary of Harvey Milk and who conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (which by the way has become, at 54 tons, the world’s largest piece of community folk art).

In the scene, Jones is an obviously tired, frustrated and angry activist confronting the reality of a modern queer generation whose equality at this point might feel as though it had been handed to them on a silver platter. The scene is from the third installment of the miniseries “When We Rise,” Dustin Lance Black’s attempt to create a somewhat star-studded documentary/biopic chronicling the modern queer movement from Stonewall to the present.

(Black, you’ll recall, wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Milk”, the biopic about Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, who also won an Oscar.)

“No! No, it is not over! We cannot give up now… We have got to remember who is not with us!” I blared this at my equally tired, frustrated and angry husband — who is, for better or worse, accustomed to these outbursts from me.

Let me explain.

At 62 years old I have been out of the closet for 49 years now, since I was 13.

I have only been in two long-term relationships. The first started in college and ended when he was killed by a drunk driver who ran a red light — a driver who’d been drinking because his wife was divorcing him for having slept with a man.

My current relationship, as of June 25th of this year, will have spanned 35 beautiful years. And while we were legally married on November 21, 2015, we still celebrate June 25th as our anniversary and probably will for the rest of our lives. It’s a quirk of second-class citizenship.

For 31 of the years we’ve been together, I’ve been a pastor — almost 19 of them as the founding and senior pastor of my current church.

In those 31 years I’ve lost track of the number of funerals and memorials I’ve officiated for those who have died as a result of the AIDS plague. Because if you do the math, those 31 years began in 1986. However, I do remember clearly and can still see the faces of the 14 very close friends — including my best friend from my hometown of Chicago who didn’t live to see his 45th birthday — whom I’ve survived, HIV-negative and still feeling the multi-ton weight of survivor’s guilt all these years later.

I share all this as a way of elucidating why Black’s miniseries has been more than a bit difficult to watch. I lived all that. Even though the miniseries is set in San Francisco and I am from Chicago, I could have been one of any number of the characters it depicts. So the whole thing just rests so heavily on my heart.

There’s more.

I was also rejected by my family. I was the victim of sexual abuse. I was threatened with psychological treatment. I was the victim of hate crimes. I was rejected by the education system and the church of my childhood. I was denied housing. I was threatened with violence.

And to this day it’s never been lost on me the threats and dangers I’ve faced as an out and proud gay man living in the South for the last 23 years.

So to borrow from the words of the familiar hymn, this miniseries is my story, it is my song. It’s also the story of countless thousands in the TLGB community — and because it has been our story, it has become the story of countless thousands of QIA folks as well.

Having not yet seen the final installment of this four-part series, I don’t know where it’s going to go our how it’s going to end up. But I can guess. The legal granting of our marriage equality is a great victory. The movement and momentum toward job protections, our assimilation into society, the normalization of our relationships — these are all things we can celebrate and be proud of. We need to hold the s/heroes of these hard-fought advances close to our hearts and always be grateful for their stamina, creativity and courage.

However, we also need to remember something else Cleve Jones has said: “A movement that seeks to advance only its own members is going to accomplish little”.

What does that mean?

It means the current generation does indeed have a purpose, and a great one. While the people whose lives are represented by the T in TLGBQIA have been in this movement from the beginning, they have been treated with disdain, been trivilialized, been the butt of jokes, been afterthoughts — and on our worst days, been part of the sacrifice made in the march toward everyone’s equality.

So what is the purpose the current generation needs? It’s to ensure that bathrooms are safe to be used for their intended purpose — and not as a political football. It’s to secure job protections, insurance coverage and a relief from the violence that is aimed so specifically and savagely at transgender people.

In that vein, these words of Dr. King could not be more relevant to this current generation:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Need more evidence?  Look no further than here: Christian conservative TX mom becomes “accidental activist” after child comes out as transgender

Or here:


This generation must remember the lesson from this story. These accomplishments have only come about because we came together as a community. Remember that during the start of the AIDS plague the world was willing to let us die. It was only when we came together that we found ways to live!

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t supply relevant inspiration from the bible, so here it is (Philippians 2:1-4):

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

This generation’s purpose couldn’t be clearer, and there’s a fully modern way of expressing it. It’s to help the world see that:

  • Trans lives matter.
  • Black lives matter.
  • Muslim lives matter.
  • Women’s lives matter.

… and all that it means in the fullness of the Creation and of life on this earth.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org.

The Road to Freedom: Free to Follow Jesus, Free to be Me

Lenten Study for March 1, 2017. Part one of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter.

Readings:

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking. John 14:1-4

All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud! Ephesians 3:12-13

Acts 15

Easter Sunrise Service Caps 2017 Holy Week and Lenten Observance

The Easter Sunrise Service at the Church Without Walls in Atlanta’s Candler Park at 7:06am on Sunday, April 16th caps the 2017 Holy Week and Lenten observance for Gentle Spirit Christian Church, which includes:

Hygiene Kits for the Homeless: May 21, 2017

Several times a year we distribute nearly 500 personal hygiene kits to local homeless people. Since starting our hygiene kits ministry in 2010, we have distributed more than 5,000 kits. Our goal is to distribute 2,000 kits a year.

Our next distribution is planned for Sunday, May 21, 2017 in place of our regular Church Without Walls service. As with the regular service, we will meet in picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park.

During our last hygiene kits ministry on February 12, 2017 we assembled 500 more hygiene kits for distribution to local homeless people. We were joined by members of the Decatur Rotary Club, which also generously supports our hygiene kits ministry with a grant and sourcing of supplies.

The hygiene kits ministry happens in three phases:

  • Collection of hygiene kit supplies year-round.  (Click here to see a list of what we collect; we can use your help!)
  • Assembly of the hygiene kits on the date and time indicated above, at picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park in place of our regular Church Without Walls service.
  • Distribution of the hygiene kits to local homeless people immediately following assembly of the kits.