There is welcome at the table, and there is rest for the weary and traveled soul.
Not so long ago, that was a hopeful utterance and a declaration of how I thought it should be. Now, however, these two sentences have become true statements for me as I have experienced affirmation, welcome, and even celebration within the Church through Pilgrim Congregational UCC.
Before, I had been welcomed and affirmed by individuals, even when it was counter-cultural to the institution. I was even able to continue in my role as a worship leader at the church and a chapel service at my school, but I was still closeted and bore the understanding that I was ok because I had not been in a relationship.
How different my experience was when I first experienced true openness and welcome at a Glad Alliance meeting! Being invited to an open table for the first time was a poignant moment for me, and I was so blessed to share that moment with my girlfriend, Deanna, who is now my wife. It seems impossible to capture with words the deep love, grace, power, and unity experienced in these moments in an open service and open body of Christ.
I recently read a devotional for Lent by Richard Rohr, reflecting on the act of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. There is a provocative challenge of why the church does not practice washing each others’ feet as sacrament, and the implications of Jesus’ actions for how we should live. It is striking to me that Jesus, on his last night before his crucifixion, participated in washing the feet of his disciples: the same action that a marginalized woman made toward Jesus when she washed his feet with her hair. In Open & Affirming communities, we who have been marginalized are invited and welcome to also make our offerings and to touch and engage with the Body of Christ.
There is also the theme of God as benevolent. My immediate thoughts led me to a memory of growing up in a small old-fashioned Pentecostal church in Tennessee, where my grandfather was pastor, and foot washing was practiced.
As a small child, I remember being led into a room to the left with the women of the church, while all the men went into a room to the right. Chairs were lined around the room, and women were taking off their shoes. I remember my grandmother, with a towel over her skirt, getting on her knees to wash the feet of the women in the room, taking with her the pan of water, going down the line. I had no idea, then, what this meant, and to be honest, I do not think I realized it until this week through many tears.
My grandmother’s actions and giving and serving spirit were and are a picture of the nature of Christ. My grandmother – the gentle woman who played the church piano, who let me lay my 5 year old head in her lap while my grandfather preached, who sang to me, who is always sure to show love, and who accepted me and loves me and my wife even though she doesn’t understand.
Being in the welcoming body has been an invitation to experience that kind of love and gentleness as well as celebration. They celebrated our marriage and welcomed us as members. We are all respected and loved for our whole true selves. We are all invited to both give and receive and participate as full members of the Body of Christ. Just as Christ extended his love through washing the disciples’ feet, Christ is extended through the Open & Affirming body to those of us who have grown weary and have been much traveled and rejected. We have found a place where we can rest in safety and confidence and experience the love of God quieting us and rejoicing over us with singing.
Through my experience in the affirming and welcoming body, I have a deeper understanding of the vastness of God’s love and the gift that is my marriage, and my love for God and desire to serve Christ has only increased. I have come to be more whole and to have a greater sense of self-worth through a deeper belief and understanding in the Imago Dei. My wife and I have been incredibly supported and loved.
Dr. Martin Luther King said: “The end is reconciliation and the creation of the beloved community.” In Open & Affirming congregations, we experience reconciliation and beloved community. I pray the same for all.
May the peace of God uphold you and the love of God enfold you, and may we spread and be this beloved community and pray for its full realization.