When I was in kindergarten, the junior high school was next door to my school. We would sometimes pass students from there when we were walking around outside in our single-file lines, and from time to time we would go over to the big school for a fall festival or to use their gym. I can remember how much I wanted to be like those older kids. Even now, at 35 years old, in my mind I can imagine myself as tiny and young and those young teenagers as enormous and wise, and their school more than a little mysterious.
But of course, I’ve long since passed through that junior high school myself, and high school and college and way too much graduate school. There is nothing mysterious about it anymore; I’ve been there, and I’ve done that. I even got the t-shirt. (It no longer fits).
So how does it feel to be a part of an Open & Affirming church? It feels a lot like that—that experience of something like holy envy. I spent a lot of time in churches that were not Open & Affirming—or, in churches that didn’t say they were explicitly (and therefore, really, weren’t). I spent a lot of time wondering what it must be like to be a part of a church that was explicitly Open & Affirming. I spent a lot of time imagining how idyllic and holy and peaceful it must be. As a minister, I spent a lot of time worrying about how my church might make that transition, and what kinds of enormous, mysterious things we might encounter along that path.
But six years ago, I became a part of a church that was Open & Affirming. And my reaction to being a part of an Open & Affirming church is a lot like my reaction was to finally getting to junior high school, and being one of those huge, wise, mysterious junior high school kids. The reaction to both was this: This is actually not that different. When I finally got to junior high, I didn’t feel any different, and certainly not wise or mature. When I finally got to an Open & Affirming church, it felt just like…well…church. There were no choirs of angels, and peace did not break out like that “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” commercial. It was just church. It felt very normal.
Honestly, this was kind of a letdown at first. Why didn’t this feel special—more holy, more righteous, more awesome than before? If I had spent so much time looking up in reverence, why didn’t I feel that now? There were plenty of gay and lesbian folks, and plenty of straight allies, and even some transgendered and transsexual folks who joined with our congregation from time to time. It felt like it should feel like the Kingdom of Heaven. But it just felt…normal.
But over these six years, I’ve realized something. The fact that it feels normal is a sign that the Kingdom is breaking in. The fact that a lesbian woman can be moderator of the congregation, and nobody bats an eyelash, was at first a letdown, but now I see it as its own form of righteousness. The fact that we perform union ceremonies without so much as a nasty email to Church Council asking for the ministers’ resignations is its own kind of holiness. The fact that some of the kids in Sunday School have two dads, and some of the youth in Youth Group have two moms, is just totally completely normal. I can’t emphasize enough how normal it is. And sometimes, it is in the normal that we find the most evidence of God.
Don’t be afraid of opening, affirming, welcoming, including, or any other form of hospitality to all God’s people. Don’t fear what it will do to you or your congregation. It’s not that different over here. We’re not wiser, more mature, stronger, or holier. We’re very much the same as you are. But I’m glad I’m in a church where the walls are down. I’m glad I’m in a church where it’s just not a big deal. Because in that normality—in that un-remarkable-ness—is the abiding presence of God.