Saturday, June 23, 2012

Changing Churches (part 2, we'll call it the "Pride Edition)

I'm a gay. I write for gay publications using my real name. Generally, even if we've just met, you'll learn fairly quickly I'm gay, not because I wear rainbows, pink triangles, or feather boas (not that there's anything wrong with wearing any of those things), I've just learned to sort of let it be known with at little fanfare as possible. Maybe it's a conversation about dating, or some hottie from Hollywood, or any number of things that happen pretty easily in daily conversation, but unless I feel personally threatened, I don't hide. (I'll probably try to move out of a group of burly men speaking violently of gay folk---I've little interest in being a martyr in the modern sense.)

But Pride weekend . . . I generally don't do it. I don't care for crowds. I don't care for drinking. I don't care for noise. I seem to have that thing where I have a hard time picking out individual voices in a noisy room, so I can't have easy conversation without most of it being "What?" My friend Margo, a speech pathologist, told me the name of this thing, but I've forgotten it already. Anyway, in noisy crowds, I tend to just watch other people talking, but it all sounds like barking dogs.

So, if you've ever been to a Pride event, you maybe can see why I don't care to go.

This year, I was going. Through misadventures with Houston's rotten public transportation (upon which I rely daily but the weekend schedules are awful), I didn't make it. But I really intended to go because earlier this week, I realized that walking in the parade with people from the church I'm joining would be . . . I don't know . . . good.

Mind you, the church I'm leaving didn't do Pride parades and I didn't really care if they did. I did care that being gay was still treated a bit as something to keep secret. I think by the time I left, most people knew I was gay, but I would still have people speak of this reality in hushed tones, as if we didn't want some people to overhear, as if it were a secret to be protected. I understand they're now starting a process for becoming a Reconciling congregation, which surprises me because I've been in those meetings in the past, the "why do we need to do this when we say we welcome everyone" conversations. (That's perhaps a post for another time, but those conversations always annoyed me greatly.) But if they're moving forward with that, I'm glad and happy for them. I hope its a good move for them and that they're able to reach the growing gay community near that church.

All of which to say, I'm not leaving that church because they weren't a Reconciling congregation. I never made decisions about church attendance based upon that status, so long as LGBT folk weren't denounced from the pulpit.

What attending this new church has done for me is tell me that I've turned a corner on that. I didn't mind that I was only one of maybe three gay men in the congregation. (I always heard rumors of a lesbian member, but I was never able to figure out who that was!) But once I started attending this new congregation, I began to be moved by the visible presence of couples and families in the pews. It was a comfort I didn't even know I desired. I highly valued the racial mix of my former church, and this new church has that, too (although I'm quick to acknowledge that both are still predominantly white congregations). Seeing gay couples in church seems, right now, to be a balm to some sore I didn't even know I had.

Some LGBT people stay in predominantly straight congregations---sometimes even in congregations that are hostile to LGBT people---out of a sense of call, a call to be a witness to people that gay folk are, sometimes, even oftentimes, people of faith who sometimes, even oftentimes, stay away from church because we really don't feel all that welcome. One or two people have suggested that my former church is considering becoming Reconciling because I was there, maybe because I've now left. I don't know about that, but if so, may it be a movement of the Spirit, not just about me.

But the lack of open welcome to LGBT folk at the former church was only one reason why I'm changing congregations, and in my mind, it was a small part. Now that I'm in a congregation with a larger, visible presence of LGBT folk, I realize it may have been bigger than I realized.

And for that reason, I'm sorry I didn't make it to walk with them in the Pride parade this evening. I'm very thankful to have found a place that is willing to have that presence and witness at Pride. I think there's some sort of healing in it for me. Maybe. Time will tell.

It's just a strange thing to find comfort for an ache you didn't even know you had.