On a Shattered Church, Sorrow, Sanctuary and Finding a Path Forward Together

I sat on the patio on Friday night, barefoot with friends and some bottles of beer as the sun set on what we thought was an endless series of long, hot days, and the clouds rolled in for the first time in weeks. The air grew muggy anticipating the rain. We sighed, and we cried. We cried, my friends and I, and we mourned, and we gave our mourning as an offering, because we lost something on Friday, and when we lose things we cherish, mourning together becomes holy ground. A kind of worship. The rain coming seemed fitting, like the skies grieved and worshipped with us.

No one died, but hope did a little, on Friday. A little or a lot, depending on where you stand and whether the ones who hold the chalk drew you in or drew you out. I don’t like writing that hope died; it seems dramatic and melancholy, but that’s how it felt, like hope died. But maybe it just faltered. Yes; faltered may be what I mean.

I belong to a church which belongs to a larger group of churches, and on Friday our circle became smaller. Smaller on purpose, it seems, because on Friday we learned that a fellow church has been released from membership – dis-membered, if you will – because that church’s conviction that LGBTQ people will be welcomed and affirmed as full participants in their community is “shattering” to the whole, and our larger group of churches is “unable to embrace our current diversity.”

Another church let go. It’s the same story we’ve heard before. The same story across the nation. The same story across the denominations. Another church let go. “Released.” Not without thought. Not without nuance. Not without prayer. Not without kind, good people agonizing for years over an excruciating, impossible decision and making it anyway. It’s the same story. The same story still. This time, though, it’s happening in my world. My world, which I know is small, but is large in my heart and full of people who are now, ironically, shattered in order to stem the shattering tide. Shattered on the altar of preventing a larger break. Shattered in the hope of holding something together, but something that seems more broken now, and how do we hold broken bits together? How does exclusion keep enough pieces to repair?

Friends, hear me now; this breaks my heart. And hear this, too; it breaks the hearts of the people who are now excluded from our community and the hearts of the people who made this decision. It breaks the heart of Jesus. No doubt. No question. Heart-breaking all around.

As a Christian who loves Jesus and the Bible and is an LGBTQ ally, my position is, I suppose, clear. And so I was left Friday night with a Now What? Now what? Now that the broader group of churches to which I belong has let me know they’re unable to embrace our current diversity – in essence, unable to embrace me and what I believe – is there a place for me here? How do I stand with my friends who are displaced? How do I stand with my friends who aren’t? How do I love all my neighbors; those who are inside the circle of fellowship and those who’ve been removed? Do I rescind my own membership? Do I stay and follow Love’s lead from within? What do I do? And, most important of all, how do I let my LGBTQ friends know how very much they are cherished and loved? Adored for who they are; made in the very image of God? Not alone?

I sat in sorrow on Friday, and I wondered what to do – action oriented as I am, which is a particular fault of mine – and I felt Love whisper to my tired spirit. “The path is the same. The path hasn’t changed,” Love said, and I was comforted because I know what path Love meant; I’d just lost sight of it in my angst.

Whether we are invited to the table or sent from it, our path forward is the same for those of us who believe in a God whose other name is Love. The path forward is the same. Grace. Peace. Love of God and love for our neighbors. The recognition that all are our neighbors, all are made in the very image of the divine, and all are achingly, stunningly, beautifully human. The path forward is the same. Care for the broken-hearted. Mourning with those who mourn. Reaching toward the wounded. Creating safe havens. Embodying sanctuary.

The Church has sent people away again and again throughout its entire history. Again and again. Over foreskins. Over bacon. Over women and wine and water; whether and when women can have a voice; whether and when we can drink wine, no matter that Jesus said do this; whether and when we immerse or sprinkle ourselves with water as baptism as though baptism by fire isn’t an acceptable form or baptism by wilderness or baptism by exclusion or baptism by grace.

We argue, instead. We argue semantics and love. We argue, and again and again people are left – discarded by the churches that say, “You may have a place somewhere; it’s just not with us.” Again and again, people are left, reeling and hurt. And so, again and again, we get to choose our path.

Here’s what I choose, friends…

I choose to sit in the mud with the suffering. I choose to sit barefoot with beer on holy ground. I choose to sit on the patio with friends who are confused and wounded as the heat from the day vanishes and the moon rises and the clouds roll in. I choose to commune with the broken-hearted as rain follows months of sun.  I choose to journey with those who have been told they’re no longer part of the club.

Loving our neighbors comes with consequences. It always has. It always will. The Good Samaritan paid a price to help the man left on the side of road. A literal price in time and gold and forbearance as the wounded man healed. This price is nothing new, friends.

Our work together is to find hope in the middle of the hurt. To gather the wounded. To provide sanctuary and solace. To let the weary rest. To speak gently to the wary. To sit in the mud and the muck and the mire with the angry and sorrowful and those who are too numb to feel anything at all.

This is the work of God. This is the work of Love. To find those who’ve been excluded and to draw the circle wide again. To draw it wide and wider and to let them come in.

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Edwin Markham

With Love,

Signature

 

 

 

P.S. Coincidentally (or “coincidentally” for those of us who think such things aren’t always coincidental ;)), I’ll be at West Hills Friends Church — the church that was released from Northwest Yearly Meeting membership — this Sunday, August 2nd at 12:00pm to facilitate a conversation sparked by this blog post: The Church Isn’t Dying; It’s Being Reborn. We’ll be talking about Sanctuary, too. You can find the event information here on Facebook. I can’t imagine a bigger privilege than worshipping with my West Hills friends during this time, and I’d love to see you there. I’ll be there for their worship service at 10:00am, as well. Join me?

P.P.S. For those of my LGBTQ friends who are suffering from this decision, who may feel adrift or alone, please read these posts by my friends Mark Pratt-Russum and Gregg Koskela. You are loved.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
38 comments
  1. Friends who are strong women who care deeply about the character of their kids and my kids. We all know the old adage “never pee into the wind,” but there are some additional, quality, “how to” ideas about peeing that are not, apparently, self-evident.

  2. Thank you to all the God-loving people here who are standing in support of the LGBTQ God-loving people! It’s so encouraging to see that there are other God-loving people besides me who believe that God created us ALL in his own image – including those who are born LGBTQ. I have enough LGBTQ family members and friends who I have known since they were infants or small children to know that YES, they are born with those characteristics.
    I have a gay family member who wants nothing to do with God because he was raised in a church that told him all of his life that, “God made you this way, but God also thinks you are an abomination.” Who would want to follow a God who does that??? And how does one repent from being born LGBTQ? That’s like asking someone to repent from being born with dark skin or having green eyes!
    The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has spent years in Biblical study to determine what their stance on the inclusion of LGBTQ people should be. They came to the conclusion that each church should decide what God’s leading is. I’m happy to say that the ELCA church that my husband and I belong to has chosen to accept LGBTQ people just like they accept any other person who has or is seeking a relationship with God.
    Beth, I hope that your larger church group will reconsider and accept the individual church back into the community.

    1. “God made you this way, but God also thinks you are an abomination.”. It’s really a bizarre message isn’t it? At my church Sunday, which is part of the larger organization Beth is writing about, we sang a song with the words “We are wonderfully marvelously made/ No two of us are quite the same”. Could. not. sing. While I believe that many of the members and attendees of the church are welcoming AND affirming, I just imagined the pain they would cause LGBTQ people and their friends and family.

  3. […] I Feel About What’s Happening in Our Churches and Our (in)Ability to Love Our Neighbors as Ourselves Balls, balls, balls, balls, balls, Balls, […]

  4. We’re finding we’re all needing to reconsider the issues of culture in the light of Christian compassion and truth’s in the teachings of scripture….to be incarnational people and representatives of the kingdom and non judgmental in our approach. So we evaluate and seek the Lord in these days of sweeping change…this morning I read a piece from John McArthur, who may be “off the chart” for some and in keeping with the understanding of the scriptures for others. As we seek the mind of Christ and uphold what we believe God’s intent for mankind, perhaps this will add perspective for some: https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-425/We-Will-Not-Bow

    1. Add some perspective? Yes, if that means expanding what I thought was possible in the way of hate and exclusion by people who call themselves Christians. Pharisee, hypocrite, and “brood of vipers” comes to mind. People like this are why I am a practicing Quaker after years of spiritual abuse in fundamentalist churches. How does this have anything to do with loving God or your neighbor? Condemning in vitro fertilization and embryo donation as “having children without sex” and “destroying the family” is just plain ignorant and hateful. In my case, being sterile, it has allowed me and my wife to form a loving family. Frankly, anyone who would view my two precious daughters as abominations will I hope someday find his place in hell, where he belongs.

  5. There is nothing more painful that feeling hurt by the church– by the people who are supposed to be your people. When my former parent church closed our satellite location without much notice and without asking for our consent or opinions, I was left numb and heartbroken. It was the first time the church really let me down, really did something that was hurtful to me, and it’s still painful almost two years later. I wish all the best to your church– for those who stay and especially those who find themselves left out. In my experience, healing takes a lot of time, but you’re so right: the path hasn’t changed! And neither has God, whose other name is Love.

  6. Thank you for your faithfulness, Beth. Our allies often pay a painful pri e and I want you to know, it is appreciated. Activism in defense of the oppressed is a sacred task.

  7. Thank you for loving without prejudice! I’ve always wondered why Christians (and let’s be honest, people of other faiths as well) are so violently opposed to the LGBTQ community but can so easily turn a blind eye to true atrocities like hunger and poverty and violence and human trafficking and…… There are so many wars to be won – why must we battle with one another? Covered in muck but still waving in the dark!

  8. I’m sorry that you and those you love are going through this. Exclusion feels like a direct violation of God’s teachings and Jesus’ work. I am always struck with a feeling of “My God is so much bigger than that”. Keep moving forward on your path. It matters. It is working.

  9. As someone who is not churchy at all, I just don’t understand why “the church” excludes people or why someone would want to be part of that kind of culture. You can worship God wherever you are and wherever you choose, but I just have such a hard time wrapping my head around why people would want to be associated with that. It’s just not ok to judge and then hide behind God as the reason in doing so.

    1. Liz, I agree that the church should not exclude people — I think sometimes the church forgets that God’s grace covers EVERYTHING and it’s not our responsibility to judge. (I think that often the judging is based on a fear that God has charged us with enforcing certain holiness standards and that God will be angry if we fail to do so. I am relieved to have cast off that burden in favor of simply loving people as they are.) During the past couple of years I have come to think of church as a kind of “club” I attend. I don’t always agree with all of the club’s policies or with all of the other other club members, but this particular club is based on loving God and others and comes together to do good in the world (good that likely would not be accomplished if each of us were left to our own devices). I also know that when I need support (in a time of grief, for example), it will be a comfort to know I can rely on the friends I have made at church.

  10. Mama that is exactly the right thing, to send a little flag up there, that says “Hi! I’m here! And I recognize I’m hiding even though I don’t know why yet.” And allow some other brave souls under that blanket with you, someone that can go into those dark places with you. When I am there, low energy, or feel like I can’t breathe, I put it out there, and let those that know help me, and they stay with me there until it changes again. And it always changes doesn’t it? Deep grounding breaths when you are under those covers girl.

    I’m a stranger, reading your blog from the mountains of Colorado. I am not a believer. I am not married. But I am a Mama. Your posts give me a lift, offer me connection in their relate-ability, in their rawness and honesty, and in their humor. Thank you for writing. Thank you for sharing.

  11. ahhhhh shoot. shoot shoot. I love this blog, it makes me laugh so hard. I love the real ness and the cussing and the silly honesty. I love not taking life too seriously, because, well, it’s hard and if anyone says otherwise is a fool! but….there it is…gonna have to stop following. Christ is my King, and ignoring the entire Old Testament is scary. Christ said He and His Father are One, so Scripture is clear. there are no grey areas. I heart loving all kinds of people. I’ve been a pastor’s wife for way too long (totally didn’t sign up for it), and grace and Love are absolutely needed in order to reach everyone. Every.One. but if churches do not tell the Truth to those living opposite of God’s perfect plan, then they are speaking Hate. if I fail to correct my kid from telling me little white lies, I am speaking Hate. Beth, I’ve read your stuff for long time. I wish we could share a beer right now. I plead with you. speaking the truth, the hard truth, can and will save souls from eternal hell. I promise you, that sounds tough but listen..God is Holy. there is a reason He desires none other than righteousness. He cannot be near the thought of sin. when Isaiah saw God in His vision, those flying angel beings had to touch a burning coal to his lips because he was a sinner. God will not tolerate sin. okay, so He sent His Son. the blood sacrifice. we’re free! the sinner is set free! yes. Thank you, Jesus. the love He showed the destitute, prostitutes, sick, mentally ill…all those we recoil from naturally in society…He touched them, He healed them, and He commanded that they sin no more. repentance is key. yes, welcome all walks of life into every church. please, sit down by me and listen to the Truth. please, come back and hear more about how we have all fallen and are in need of a Savior. but if there is no repentance, then a church is commanded to speak truth, the hard truth. and draw a line. That is why Christ died. otherwise, if we do not take seriously His sacrifice so we can approach the throne of grace, then we have failed to grasp the holiness of His Father.
    dude I never comment on blogs. but I felt compelled. peace to you, you have a beautiful family and you are an amazing mother.

    1. Thank you! I’ve been thinking the EXACT SAME THING! Love does not ignore sin but confronts it lovingly and strives for connection and reconciliation to Him. When we ignore things that separate us from Him (not because of Him but because of or own shame) we are not loving people was are actually condemning them to a life of separation.. There can be no greater tragedy.

      1. the greatest sin is to feel separate and superior to others.
        You phrased it correctly, when we ignore things IN OURSELVES that separate us from Him (read that as the God light in each child of God) we are not loving people.
        Fist that the plank out of your own eye before condemning the speck in your brother or sister’s eye.

    2. So no more cheeseburgers for you? Or mixing fabrics?
      And what about ignoring Jesus, who said judge not lest ye be judged for the judgement you pass upon others will be the judgement passed upon you? And why to you look for a splinter in your neighbor’s eye when there is a log in your own?
      Very sad to call yourself a christian and not do unto others as you would have done unto you.

      1. Sorry Jenny and Chris–I keep trying to understand, but you will not be able to convince me that my beautiful daughter, made in God’s image, is damned to eternal hell because she likes girls rather than boys.

        And equating gay people with “the destitute, prostitutes, sick, mentally ill…all those we recoil from naturally in society” is repugnant to me.

        And if that forms the foundation of your church, then I’m good over here with the other “sinners.” God will have his day with me at some point, and I’m OK answering to Him, and not to you.

    3. Sigh. Nice to know that even though people recoil from me because I have a mental illness, Jesus can heal me if I just believe. I believe in Jesus. But I still have this annoying bipolar thing and always will. Diabetics are dependent on insulin their whole lives, I’m dependent on medication my whole life. Also, if you are equating homosexuality with mental illness then nope. It’s not considered a mental illness.

      1. Also, the way you wrote your post makes it sound like I have a mental illness because of my sinful ways. I certainly hope you didn’t mean that.

    4. Wow, Jenny, I don’t remember Jesus ever telling the mentally ill, destitute or sick that they were sinning.
      How sad that anyone would think that someone was committing a sin by being poor or ill (mentally or physically).
      The message Jesus gave is that we are all welcome in the kingdom of heaven, we are all God’s children.
      If we spend our time loving and caring for one another, we may find we have little time left for judging and excluding.
      I am shocked that any Friends Meeting would spend so much time debating whether or not to welcome any group into the meeting, guess I’m out of touch.

  12. Oh I love you… And I love your pain, and your love, and your conviction, and your words… I don’t know you, or your church, or anything about you, but tonight you spoke to my heart…

  13. I just want you to know…I paused Harry Potter for this. And it was worth it.

  14. Thanks, Beth. Looking forward to seeing you Sunday.

  15. Beth, I’ll bring a cooler and muck around with you.

  16. I am truly sorry that this has come down to an us vs them decision. I think we all knew it was coming, but it really didn’t soften the blow. I know I am not really an official member, simply a friend, all I want to say is this: I know that the people involved are all good people, however the time has been thrust upon all now, stand with your convictions, follow your heart. If that ends up meaning that the big circle suddenly grows smaller, then that is how it will be. Maybe a time of change is for the best. Follow your broken hearts, Jesus said love one another. He never said unless.

  17. As an “ethnic Catholic,” your writing about Love, and this post especially, speak to me. What you say about staying the course of grace, acceptance, and tolerance; and the idea that no matter where humans have drawn all the exclusion lines, Love remains the same… THAT, I can get behind. Wish I could come to West Hills Friends Church to support you, and them.
    Love = God (and therefore, God = Love. Per the inversion principle in arithmetic, of course.)
    Keep on “being the change,” sister.

    1. I like that–“ethnic Catholic.” I’m an ethnic Episcopalian, and was so happy when that church community finally and officially embraced same sex marriage this year.

      Beth, I am so impressed by the two blogs you linked to, specifically their offering of their personal contact information for those who need support in their anger, fear, and sadness.

    2. We’re raising our kids in the Catholic church even though we have a lot of mixed feelings about the church. We recently had a mandatory meeting before our oldest’s first communion called, ‘discussing hot button topics with children.’ I was apprehensive about the meeting and had a feeling it was going to be the thing the pushed me over the edge, leaving the church completely, but instead, it filled me with hope.

      In response to a question about homosexuality, our parish priest said, “our job as Catholics is not to judge. Our job as Catholics is to accept people wherever they are in their journey and greet them with love.” I know there are a lot of people who feel differently, but I love this sentiment and I choose to greet all with love, and hope that they greet me with love in return.

  18. And now will we judge those that are obese? because the bible declares gluttony to be a sin. NO sin is worse. but it is hypocritical to judge the one and not the other

    1. Don’t worry…us obese feel judged every time that we step outside our front doors.But I understand what you mean,even though I do not consider either a sin.

  19. This is a beautiful post. I am not a church-y person. But I love your commitment to inclusiveness, to the humanity of all of us. Be well. Carry on with good works.

  20. This hit me so hard. Years since I attended church, but always a Quaker. Always proud to be part of an accepting group. To find out that it is not as I thought in some aspects wounds me. I have never thought it perfect, but I thought… Well I’m not sure what I thought. The internal struggle now begins for me. Do I leave NWYM? Is it even worth it since I don’t attend church anymore? This is the first time I have cried since I heard the news. My initial reaction was anger. Now it is sorrow. But maybe I should thank Yearly Meeting. Thanks to their decision, I’m going back to church. The church that was released sounds like my kind of place.

    1. I just remembered. When I was in high school, I was part of the WH church plant. It was just established and a bunch of us were calling local people to invite them to visit. Also, during a service, a bug flew down the top of my dress and a certain Youth Superintendent with the initials BB laughed very loudly in the middle of the sermon.

    2. Just so you know, there is an appeal process. Reedwood Friends Church had decided as a meeting to appeal the decision. Other churches are meeting to consider that possibility, including mine next week (Hillsboro). You can also appeal individually. It’s not over, yet….

      1. Hillsboro Friends is still around? When we visited (many many years ago) there were not too many people left. We were told that there was no Sunday school because there were no kids. We had two little ones at the time. I take it things have changed?

  21. Beth, I am weeping with you, sitting in the mud and faltering, too.

  22. Oh, Beth. I’m sorry for your pain and love you for standing up for LOVE. <3 to you and yours during this hard time.

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