On March 15, 2011 our little contribution to theological chaos will be 13 years old and the last 5 of those years we have made an intentional choice to conduct worship outside.
It was this choice that has moved us from a “gay-centric” church to a church which lives on the edge with all those who find themselves there as well. Of course the population of those who live on the edge of society has far more folks than LGBTQIA folks; yet, it has been interesting that even though we no longer see ourselves as a “gay church” the community label has stuck.
As we literally have become a “Church without walls”, this has been met with smiles, rolling of eyes and about 95% of the time an exclamation of “REALLY?” This is usually followed by, “What do you do when it rains?”
So a while back when I got a call from one of my friends that I have not seen for a long time, you can just imagine the conversation.
Stacy, who is a very conservative Christian, was concerned about my state of mind. She has never liked the fact I was gay and has spent the last 30 years or so praying God would turn me into a butch straight man. Right, like that was going to happen!
She had “bumped” into our website and after being horrified we don’t think “homosexuals” are going to burn in hell, her heart almost stopped when she read our mission statement.
Then she saw where we were worshipping, not just occasionally but 52 weeks out of the year.
She almost yelled at me, “Your church services are held in a park…outside…without walls…where everybody can see who you are…have you lost your mind? Don’t you know that if you are going to be a church and preach all this stuff that will piss good Christian people off, you should be inside where it is safe?”
Well, the long and short of it was I got her calmed down and we had a great conversation about why we moved outside and how the biggest desire of this congregation besides serving God was to “walk the talk”.
After I hung up I wondered how many other people think I (we) are insane. Maybe that is why growth has been a little slow. Yet this is a group of people with real guts to worship in a public park. I say this because:
1. The weather-there is sometimes too much heat; other times not nearly enough heat. Of course there are the times the roof (sky) leaks rather substantially. Of course then there is the wind. Things can and do blow around.
2. In the spring and summer there are plenty of ants, gnats, flies and mosquitoes, the occasional bee or wasp.
3. There are lots of other people in the park, with their kids laughing and carrying on. Cars coming and going.
4. The city garbage people managed to show up each week to empty the trashcans around the pavilion during our worship time.
5. There is a huge soccer league just across from us, which gets pretty loud sometimes.
6. There are also the strange looks you get from some folks as they walk by…
So yeah, I guess it takes some guts to meet outside for church. It takes a person really choosing to be there. It takes a willingness to let God be the decorator, rather then some architect. It takes a conscience choice to dress for the weather rather then for people’s approval.
It means being committed to bring food each time you come for the worship service, rather then having some committee sign people up to serve coffee and cookies after service.
It means that anyone and I do mean anyone, can show up for church and not look out of place. It also means that an important part of the congregation on any given Sunday is our pets.
It means you know where most of Jesus’ ministry took place.
It also means one is willing to practice their faith right out in the open for everyone to see.
This also means that the walls that keep many folks out of church are now gone.
Over the years the church buildings and what goes on inside out of sight from the world has come to represent for some people the worst of Christianity.
You have rules for dress.
Rules for who is and isn’t a member.
Rules for who can be in the building and when.
Rules for when the building will actually be unlocked and available for prayer or meditation. I have to say most buildings are locked up tight all week and only open on Sunday.
Rules as to what groups can and cannot use the building.
Rules for building use-“we can’t have homosexuals, drug addicts, homeless people, transgender, drunks, non-bible believing Christians, or other unrepentant sinners occupying the property”.
My God, the fights…fights over whose property is it anyway? Think I am kidding; just ask any Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist or Presbyterian.
Fights over who gave more to the building fund and therefore should have more say in the building use.
Fights over the way the building should look; the fancier the better…the bigger the better.
Fights over the signage; what kind, how big, what should it say?
Fights over how the decorations will be placed or if there should there be decorations.
Fights over the flowers each week and what kind of flowers or plants he or she will bring.
The list is endless and when you really stop and think about all of the aforementioned stuff, it really gets in the way of the message and what church is suppose to be about.
It is pretty hard to worship God when you are upset about what happened at a trustees meeting and you find yourself sitting somewhere other then that special pew by the favorite stained glass window.
Maybe we have lost our minds but God’s actual house is pretty neat to worship in.
God’s house is decorated to perfection every Sunday. The seasonal church colors take care of themselves.
Even if nobody volunteers to be in the choir, each Sunday in God’s house there is a choir from the birds, kids’ laughter and the wind through the trees.
We have truly learned what it is to make a joyful noise!
In God’s house passers-by stop for a moment to say hello, meet the pets or wait until a prayer is finished.
In God’s house folks feel free to share a bite to eat.
In God’s house it will never be locked and is always available for prayer, walks or some alone time.
In God’s house there is room for any and all who want to come. There are no doors, windows or walls to block the movement of the Holy Spirit.
In God’s house there is a wild, crazy and wonderful feeling of peace, community and solitude all at the same time.
In God’s house we have given the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the most unique and beautiful people of God’s creation, who have taught us far more about unconditional love then we would have ever experienced inside.
Then of course there are the people who make this all work. These are the people who have made a choice to step outside the politically correct and trappings of tradition. For when one is outside, it not only means you are literally without walls, but it also reminds us our faith calls us to be without walls as well. One can actually see life as it is.
We have a core group of people who, with a simple phone call, will help with housing, food, medical, recovery issues, mental health issues, jobs, legal matters, financial needs and transportation.
We have people who have simply opened their homes to those who needed a place to stay; no conditions to length of time, no expectations of being paid…just opened their home.
We have people who, week after week, bring food for those who had none.
We have people who, week after week, have provided rides to doctors, grocery stores, hospitals, to jobs or back home.
We have people who have volunteered to help people move, gave money to those in need with no expectation of ever getting one dime back.
We have those who call the church office week after week to inquire about any special prayer concerns.
We have a few people who walk 2.5 miles to church each and every Sunday regardless of weather.
We have a group of people who can testify to the healing power of God almost daily.
These folks are all heroes because in a world where recognition, wealth, power and control mean everything, it means nothing to them. One’s sexual orientation (straight, gay or somewhere in between), gender identity, race, immigration status, socio-economic standing, a particular gender or faith walk have all taken a back seat to the practice of the Gospel. Except for here most of you will never hear of them in the media or in the power places of the community.
I thank God for these faithful people of God who over the course of 13 years and especially in the last 5 years, have “walked the talk”:
Braden, Allen, Robbin, Rev. Jarrod and Erin, Kim and Sharon, Gareth, Carmen,
Maru, Lance, Monica, Corey, Vicar Alyce, Teresa, Ann Marie, Estelle and Erin,
Christopher, Maura (Spike), Richard, William, Caroline Ray, Rev. Judy, Nancy, Bob, Clinton, Phyllis, Susan, Jeff, Father Warren, Charles, James, Bill, Charles, Wolf, Jennifer, Enrique, Zan and Elizabeth, Bill, Aaron, Tom, Rev. Candace, Rev. Guy Kent
Rev. James Brewer-Calvert, Dixon, Marie, Jenny, David, Dwight, Stanley, Chuck, Darlene, Billy, and many more whose names have faded in this writers feeble mind.