An usher finally makes his way to our pew and signals that it’s our turn to head up to the altar. When I get there, I kneel next to Joe and hold out my hands to accept the bread.
“Tastes similar to what Baptist use,” I think.
Next up is the wine. I watch how Joe drinks from the cup because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to actually touch the chalice or something – because, you know, I might go to hell if I do the Eucharist wrong. I take hold of the bottom of the chalice with both thumbs and index fingers and guide the Holder of the Holy Cup (or whatever you call him or her) to my lips. I take a sip and…
HOLY EUCHARIST, BATMAN! This stuff is strong! Episcopalians know how to party! Did I just get saved?
I lean forward to him and say, “Hey! I’ve never been to an Episcopal church service before…”
“Oh really!” he says. “Don’t worry. I’ll show you everything you need to do.”
Oh, thank you sweet Jesus. You do exist.
He turns to me again and says, “The Episcopal Church is a lot more…”
“Liturgical?” I add.
“…yes. A lot of what we do is from centuries of tradition passed on to us. But if you give it a chance, you will love it.”
Throughout the entire time I’ve been sitting here, the organist has been playing. She switches songs and apparently everyone but me recognizes that this is the queue for the service to begin because they all shoot up like someone lit a fire under the pew. Coming from the back of church, a procession of priests is walking down the middle aisle towards the chancel.
The congregation begins to sing a hymn as all this is happening. We’re about to begin singing the last verse when it happens.
I’m sitting in one of the back pews of Saint John’s Episcopal Church. I have no idea what I’m getting into. I am way over my head.
Get out and experience new things he says. It’ll be fun he says.
I am absolutely, unequivocally taking a dive; jumping right off the proverbial cliff of my conservative Baptist life and heading into God knows where.
Walking in, I took in the beauty of this church. I was able to pick up things I didn’t notice at the PFLAG meeting. There’s a courtyard surrounded by the church building that is stunning, and the outside of the church is indescribably beautiful in the sunlight of the morning.
“This is a church building,” I thought.
And the inside is just as beautiful as the outside. I guess this all strikes a chord with me because Baptists don’t put an emphasis on aesthetic beauty. Sight or smell has no part in worship. Art doesn’t exist. A steeple, a few crosses, and you’re good. No matter which Baptist church you go to, it’s all the same boring routine as well. Stand, sing, sit, sing, preacher preaches, sing again with some sort of altar call (no one really knows exactly what to do here), and leave. We’re all just spectators. We watch the preacher preach. We watch the worship leader, band, praise team, or choir sing. We watch the person who sings us a special musical number. Then, we all go home and just sit on the sidelines some more; pretending to live a life worth some kind of meaning, pretending to look good among others, pretending to be people we really just don’t want to be or know how to be…watching, pretending…maybe that’s just me.
After everyone is introduced, a few announcements are made. They talk about the Episcopalian Church blessing same sex unions at their annual convention, and celebrate the victory. However, it’s a bitter sweet victory because the bishop of their particular diocese will not allow his churches to use the blessing. Carl gave an announcement that the PRIDE group from a local college was going to protest Chick-Fil-A the next day. The infamous restaurant chain was having a promotion: dress up as a cow, get a free chicken sandwich. The PRIDE group was going dressed as cows, getting the free sandwiches, and then donating them to the homeless. For the rest of the meeting, Steven is asked to give a talk on The Family Tree; upcoming events, its new location, how we can get involved as volunteers, etc.
Throughout the meeting, and then talking with some of them afterwards, I began to make some revelations. I looked around at the people there who were gay, bi, or lesbian and one word popped into my mind. Normal. These people were like me. They genuinely wanted me to be there, to listen to what I had to say. And, did you catch that? “These people.” They’re not “these people,” they’re us. They are you and me. We have more similarities than we do differences. Why are so many people threatened by this community? What are they scared of? As we were mingling, their sexuality didn’t matter to me anymore. I wasn’t getting to know gays and lesbians, I was just getting to know new people.
I find that almost every single one of them is a self-proclaiming Christian. I don’t think I was expecting this. Even though this was being held in a church, I still wasn’t sure what the faith make-up would be. But these people were Christians. They don’t express bitterness about the church and other Christians, or how they’ve been mistreated; even though I’m sure they have. They genuinely want to see change in the church, not run from it – as we’re so apt to do.
There’s a girl already seated, but she doesn’t seem interested in talking, so I walk past her and sit on the opposite side of the circle. I open my journal, hoping to take notes about what I’m experiencing. I’m also writing down names because I’m horrible at remembering names. I write “PFLAG” at the top of the page, then put Sandi and Susan’s names underneath.
Finally, more people start to file in and are helping themselves to the rainbow Goldfish. I really should get up and go talk to them, but instead I’m glued to my chair. I decide to just stare at my journal instead and –
Shit! You idiot! You forgot to put the “L” in PFLAG!
Oh, my God.
I knew you would blow this. They’re going to run you off with pitch forks, you moron!
I didn’t mean to! What do I do?!
Fix it before someone sees! Try to squeeze in the “L”! Quick!
Nope! That still doesn’t work! Scratch it out! Hurry, someone’s comi…
“Hi! I’m Carl!”
I snap the journal shut and look up. Did he see the profanity written in my journal? I can feel the blood of embarrassment oozing into my cheeks. Oh, no. He’s going to think I’m blushing at him. I’m just staring at him with my mouth half-open.
Well, say “hi” before he thinks you have a crush on him.
“Oh, yeah! Hey there! I’m Matt! Nice meet you!” I say.
He saw, he definitely saw. Had to of seen. He thinks I’m a homophobe. He’s going to yell.
He sits down next to me.
“You mind if I sit here? Those other chairs are uncomfortable,” he says.
“Sure! No problem!” I say, a little too nervously.
I’m doing everything wrong here.
Nooooo. You’re doing fiiiine! They only think you’re a judgmental homophobe that wants to spy on them. Great job there, buddy!
“So, this your first time? It’s okay to be nervous,” says Carl.
Ha! You have no idea, bud.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“Is this your first time at PFLAG?” he clarifies.
“Oh yeah, yeah! I’m excited about it!” I say.
We talk for a bit and I find out that Carl and I are both twenty-five and we both recently got out of a relationship with a girl, but he’s quick to say he’s bisexual. Of course, he then asks me the question I was expecting before I arrived.
“So, are you straight or bi?” he asks.
Just find something and do it. Anything.*
I’m looking at a website with a list of community events around town and notice that there is a PFLAG meeting this Thursday night. I click on the event and discover that it’s a support/educational group for Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays. I have never really heard of them before. This sounds interesting, but I’m not sure.
Well, you wanted to step out of your comfort zone, this is it!
Yeah, but it’s so dramatic; kind of like taking a dive with a blindfold on. I mean, five years ago I believed you couldn’t be gay and go to heaven. You couldn’t be gay and be a faithful, obedient Christian. That was back when I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know anyone who was openly gay or lesbian. I heard the stereotypes, “All thosequeers are just a bunch perverted child molesters.” Not that I necessarily agreed with that back then, but apathy doesn’t make you innocent either. It’s so easy to believe in stereotypes when you don’t have a face to go along with the myth. It’s easy to hate a faceless group of people – you have no personal or emotional attachment. Sure, my Baptist church never proactively and outspokenly bashed gays and lesbians, but you’re kidding yourself if you think they were actually welcomed.
It is two hours before the meeting starts. I’m beginning to have doubts about going.
Chicken. You always do this. Just get your ass out of the door. You need to do this.
Fine, I’ll go.
Wait, I’m going to miss Big Bang Theory. It starts at…
The meeting is going to be held in the library at Saint John’s Episcopal Church. I’ve never been to an Episcopal church before.I’m wondering if the people at the meeting are actually members of this church or if the church was just kind enough to offer their library to use as a meeting place. This should be interesting considering that the Episcopal Church just decided to bless same-sex unions at their annual convention. I wonder if that will be mentioned at the meeting.
At this point I have no idea what I’m getting myself into. I’m thinking there will be at least 30 people at this place. I’ll be able to blend in and just be a silent observer. I get to the church about 15 minutes early. I park across the street, enter the church, follow the directions to the library, and find myself alone with one other person. So much for blending in.
“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
One of the hardest things I’ve ever been able to do is to get out and live. You sit behind a screen long enough and you really begin to feel something within you straining to break free. I’ve felt that way for awhile now. It’s so easy to be apathetic and lazy. It’s so easy to stay at home alone, which, don’t get me wrong, can be absolutely wonderful. However, I do too much of it. I don’t have many friends…oh, but I do. I’m just horrible at maintaining friendships, keeping in touch with people, taking the initiative. But as I sit at home each night, I feel my bones yearning for something so much more.
So to remedy this problem, I’ve begun a journey, an adventure. One that will take me out of my comfort zone to places I haven’t been before, or meeting people I’ve never met, or doing things I’ve never done. Getting out and doing great things, heroic things. I’ll be on the news, in the paper; people will know who I am. I’ll rescue dogs, women and children in distress, and homeless men getting beat up by gangs. They’ll create a nick name for me…a superhero name. Awesome Matt, no, no, no, Super Awesome Matt, no, Captain Mattman, yes! Politicians will seek my support. Scientists will ask me questions concerning the subatomic particles that make up our universe. Religious scholars will beg me to write a book on the vast knowledge I’ve obtained about the greatest theological question of all time, “Will my pet go to heaven?” I will live a life without regret, I will conquer this town, I will conquer our social problems, I… honestly have no idea what I’m doing, or where to begin.
In fact, it took me a good month before I began to be proactive in this little quest. That’s because I didn’t know where to begin. Before I continue it may help to give a brief background on what got me to this point. Not too long ago I was a college minister at a Southern Baptist church. I grew up pretty conservatively, went to college and got a B.A. in Ministry, knew for certain I was going to do this forever, and planned my life accordingly. I got this position as a part time college minister making about $10,000 a year, but I ended up getting burned out quickly. There are many reasons why this happened: 1) it was a Southern Baptist church, 2) I was a college minister at church with a median age of 65+, 3) I got paid in peanuts, and 4) it was a Southern Baptist church. For the last few years my faith has evolved (gasp!). I began to no longer align myself with the faith I was raised in, the faith that I always knew was flawless (oh, how naïve). But like most twenty-somethings, things were beginning to change for me – how I viewed God, people, faith, social issues, sexuality…and I began to wonder if I’m still “called” to do this church ministry thing. So, I resigned. That was three weeks ago as of this writing.
I was tired of being constrained, held back. I wanted to experience more for myself. I needed to do something that would shake up my world. I needed something that connected me to the rest of world – in whatever capacity that would be. I need to know if God is truly out there, if He cares; but where to begin? Of course, taking that first step is always the scary part. As my friend Lao-tzu (yeah, we’re bros) would say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Apparently that first step brought me to a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting.