I will never forget my first Sunday in a UCC church. I met their pastor in 1997 at a gay club in Dayton, Ohio. He had been kicked out of the Southern Baptist church and was starting a new UCC congregation. I had been running from God for such a long time. The fear that God hated me because I was gay kept me away from the church through all of my 20s and half of my 30s. This fear was instilled in me by people who thought they knew who God was, and who God loved. But it was this gay pastor’s courage and commitment to Christ that drew me back into the doors of spirituality and into the hearts of a congregation that genuinely cared for the gay community. I finally felt that my search for acceptance, from both God and Christianity, was revealed within the walls of this small UCC congregation. The UCC was, for me, an anomaly. The love that I felt there was overwhelming. I will always remember the feeling of being drenched in the presence of God on that first Sunday. I was overcome with the power of their unconditional love as they spread their arms wide open to me with an open and affirming compassion I had never felt before. It’s because of this church that decided to become an ordained minister.
20 years later I began the search for a new pastoral call, and Holy Trinity Community Church was quite an unexpected surprise. I had never really considered moving to the south. But there was something about you that intrigued me. My video interviews with your amazing search committee followed by my weekend visit “incognito” with an equally amazing Vestry and a phenomenal worship service was truly an answer to my prayers. But to see people of many colors, cultures, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and political opinions all worshiping together was the icing on the cake! You have been the church I have been praying for since being ordained 12 years ago. But you are much more than who folks think you are. You are more than an opening and affirming church for the LGBTQ community. You are an inclusive church where ALL are welcome. I felt like I was home, sitting in your midst. I cried through most of the service, and felt the presence of God so full and thick that I drove back to Ohio basking in God’s love the entire 6 hours. I knew that I had come home, and that you were my new family. And on August 6th, you confirmed it to me. I am so thankful that God brought us together.
And now I am here with you full-time, and I cannot express how much love I feel from you every day. I truly have never met such a loving group of people, and I am honored and humbled to be called as your pastor. I believe that my ministry call and the work of HTCC is to “intentionally” invite people back into relationship with God, just as I was invited 20 years ago. You are so gifted with hospitality and compassion that I know folks will flock to our doors once they understand what’s waiting here for them. But they won’t come, if we don’t invite them! My challenge to you as a church is to SPREAD THE WORD about HTCC wherever you go, with whomever you meet, no matter who they are! God will take care of the rest. Let’s build our HOME together, and fill up our sanctuary with new family members.
As I mentioned in my sermon this past Sunday, "Happiness is Homemade," sometimes families will have conflict. And we are no different. Conflict is a part of life. It’s a part of being human. But conflict is only destructive if we don’t know how to handle it. And how do we handle it? We handle it by addressing the multi-level layers of conflict; the situation, the behavior and the attitude or perception behind it. If we want to be a truly welcoming and healthy church, then we have to face conflict head on. Happiness is Homemade within each one of us!
I’ll be leading a sermon series throughout September and October titled, “The Journey Home.” And we will be tackling all of the issues that come with constructing our home together. If you miss a Sunday by chance, then make sure you listen to the podcast after it is uploaded. I’ll also be posting my sermon texts if you want to explore my sermon more deeply.
We talked about conflict this past Sunday, and this coming Sunday we’ll dig deep into forgiveness...and the power of transformation that we all have “for giving.” I’ll explain more about upcoming worship themes in each weekly newsletter. But I invite you to take some time to read our sacred stories in advance and prepare your hearts and minds for what God might be saying to our church in this day and time!
Blessing to ya’ll!