Sunday, August 5, 2007

All God's Children (MCC)

Earlier this summer, I was invited to preach at All God's Children - Metropolitan Community Church. I was invited to do so in my capacity as a scholar of gay history, and as a recently hired adjunct teacher at United Theological Seminary. I preached at All God's Children this morning (and have posted my sermon here for those of you interested in reading it).

For those of you unfamiliar with the MCC, it is a predominantly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender denomination. And the moment I walked through the doors of that Church I felt the Spirit in a most remarkable, indescribable, powerful way. I was immediately and warmly welcomed by some of the lay ministers and worship leaders, who then quickly ushered me into the office where we briefly reviewed the order of worship. But all that time I was utterly awestruck and humbled by the impression I was receiving from the Spirit that God was very, very pleased with this Church, and that his Spirit would be poured out in abundance this morning.

This astonishing sense of the Spirit's presence was all the more remarkable to me in that the twenty-four hours or so prior to walking into this Church I had felt particularly devoid of the Spirit. Ever since reading some very condescending comments on the Millennial Star blog, I had been struggling with an almost overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness. In the last nearly two years since I have entered into the path of seeking to live faithfully as a Latter-day Saint, I have had a growing sense of the Spirit's presence in my life, to the point that I have felt his presence as an almost constant companion. And yesterday, it was as if a light bulb had been switched off. I felt cold, dark, and alone inside, and found myself getting down on my knees several times throughout the day asking forgiveness and pleading for the Spirit to come back. I don't blame Millennial Star. My own anger at some of the comments I read was the culprit. My own anger. I am to blame. I own this. Though ironically, the topic of the blog had to do with asking whether gay and lesbian couples might be appropriately welcomed into worship in LDS Churches; and I must say that the impression I was left with was distinctly frosty and unwelcoming. And so there was some sadness and despair mixed in with the anger. Once I recognized exactly why I had lost the Spirit, I found the Spirit quietly returning and reminding me of the importance of not giving in to anger, no matter what the provocation. I have been praying prayers of gratitude since, for an all-important reminder about how the Spirit works.

But this morning, I walked into a church whose very raison-d'être is the fact that gay men and lesbians have simply been utterly unwelcome in the churches they were raised in. And if the return of the Spirit the night before had been like a light bulb turning back on in my heart, here in this church it was like floodlights shining down from Heaven. And as I stood up before the sanctuary to preach this morning and looked out over the audience into their faces, I could not but think, "Here is a congregation of people who, despite all the rejection they've experienced from those claiming to be people of faith, have stuck with God. They have turned to him in faith, and with them God is very, very pleased."

All God's Children MCC has an open communion. All are invited to partake. And the way in which they administer communion is that one person holds the communion wafers and a chalice of grape juice, and a second person takes a wafer, dips it into the chalice and then puts it into the mouth of the person receiving communion. Then he or she draws you close in an embrace, putting their arm around you, and praying with you and giving you a blessing. I don't know the name of the young man who put his arm around me and prayed with me and blessed me, but his prayer was heartfelt and filled with love and with the Spirit, and I wept. I looked around me and saw all the others coming forward to receive this reminder of Christ's love and death for each of us, and the tears continued to flow as I felt the Spirit poured out most powerfully.

After the service, I stood at the back of the sanctuary where folks came to shake my hand and thank me for the sermon. Later, I went downstairs for refreshments and to speak more with any members of the church who wished. Among those who introduced themselves to me were a couple of former Latter-day Saints.

My partner Göran was there with me, and an interracial couple came up and introduced themselves to us. When one of the lay ministers introduced me, she mentioned that Göran and I had been together for fifteen years, and this couple congratulated us. When we asked how long they had been together, they told us "Thirty-six years." They were beaming. "You learn a lot about yourself and about your loved one, staying together that long," I said. "Oh, yes," they replied, "And it takes work." We met another gay male couple there who had been together for fifty years.

One fellow who came from a very conservative Protestant tradition approached me and asked, "What is it like to be excommunicated from the Mormon Church?" When I asked him what he meant, he explained, "When I was excommunicated, afterwards they wouldn't even speak to me. I wasn't allowed to set foot in the church. If they saw me on the street, they would turn their backs on me and walk away." "The Mormons don't do that to you," I replied, with a sense of gratitude. "They actually encourage you to keep coming to church after you've been excommunicated," I said. "You're lucky," he replied.

Another fellow came up and told me how, when he was a marine, he had wanted to commit suicide. He had planned to do it by jumping into the propeller of the ship he was stationed on. He tried twice, but each time he tried, he felt someone tapping him on the shoulder. When he turned around the first time, he did not see anyone. The second time, he saw a personage of light. After that, he knew he needed to try to go on with his life. "I knew that God had some purpose for me," he said.

One older brother (one of the men who had been in a committed relationship for fifty years) said he was sorry that I had not been one of the people to administer the communion. "I so wanted to receive a blessing from you," he said.

He wanted a blessing from me. What blessing did I have to give? They were the ones who blessed me. I thank my Heavenly Father for All God's Children MCC.

9 comments:

Bored in Vernal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bored in Vernal said...

John, you are an inspiration. When I followed your link to Millennial Star and read the comments, I, too, was very angry. Your example of forgiveness and love is impressive.

The church service you described was beautiful. I hope this type of spirit will eventually permeate our services, and that people as cool as you will not give up on us!

MoHoHawaii said...

John--

I'm one of those whose faith has been shattered by his experiences as a gay Mormon.

Your attitude of reconciliation may not change the church, but your example is not unseen. It's changing me, for one.

Knight of Nothing said...

Great post, John. Is this the church we attended with you a couple years back?

I can't quite agree with you about anger, however. If you harbor and nurse and cultivate your anger, it can become toxic. But a little honest anger is good for you and good for the world. And that thread over in Millenial Star Blog made me angry enough to post my own reaction over there. ;-)

Beck said...

Very beautiful!

You are an inspiration to me.

Love,
Beck.

J G-W said...

Thank you for your kind comments. This morning I am still feeling the warmth of my encounter with AGC-MCC yesterday. I was almost embarrassed afterwards; they had asked me to come minister to them, but it was I who was ministered to. I learned some valuable lessons there.

K-of-N: I suspect that it is possible to have anger that does not separate us from God. Jesus must have had that kind of anger when he cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. But I'm not sure I am capable of that kind of anger. When I feel anger that causes me to feel a kind of pit in my stomach, when it makes me feel cold and when I notice that I have lost the Spirit, I know it is the kind of anger I need to cleanse out of my soul right away.

This church, to answer your question, is a different one from the one where you saw me preach. That one was Spirit of the Lakes.

J G-W said...

For those of you reading the comments... I thought there was one other thing worth sharing from my experience on Sunday. Sunday morning, I attended AGC-MCC, Sunday afternoon, as always, I attended the Lake Nokomis Ward of the LDS Church.

Two VERY different churches, but in the prayers they said in their respective services, they were both praying for the SAME thing: praying for the victims and the families of victims of last Thursday's bridge collapse. To me, this is a sign of hope. We are the same family...

GeckoMan said...

John,
I thought of you all day Sunday, knowing it was your sermon day. I'm glad it went well for you; did any of your GLBT friends question your return journey to the LDS Church? Or, did they get past their own bias enough to get the main point of your sermon, ie., to follow their faith and God's call to challenging points of departure into unexpected growth and enlightened personal change?

Your description of the Spirit you felt as you entered the church and as you looked upon the congregation with compassion reminded me of Alma beginning to address the Zoramites! 'God is no respecter of persons,' and his love to faithful believers who endure persecution was made wonderfully evident to you.

I went back and read the blog thread at MS. All I have to say is that Jerkhood is alive and well as is Sainthood, in the LDS church. Hopefully, with patience and love, we help our wards grow in understanding, and let the Saints' natural inclination to serve and follow the Spirit take it from there.

J G-W said...

Generally the responses were very positive. One older guy came up to me, shook my hand, and said, "Brigham Young ordered my great-great grandfather to be shot." But then he and I proceeded to have a very genial conversation, in which he demonstrated considerable knowledge of the Church's history and familiarity with Mike Quinn's work in particular.

At least a couple of people made a point of telling me they were glad my sermon countered so many of the negative things people generally hear about the LDS Church. Interestingly enough, in light of the Church's recent history, one of the people who expressed this sentiment was African American. He had chosen this particular Sunday to bring his mother with him to Church, and he said she had been very impressed by the sermon.

I had a number of conversations with people who were clearly curious, and had more questions. They didn't come right out and say as much, but my impression was that they had heard many negative things about Mormonism and they were trying to figure me out... The overall attitude of the congregation was extremely respectful and hospitable.