I first have to say that blogging or even keep a journal is not something I’ve ever wanted to do. I have always been a person who had no trouble whatsoever expressing my thoughts aloud. But lately I’ve been wrangling with a question I never thought I’d ask; what do I believe in regards to faith and religion? It’s a journey I’ve been on, if I’m honest, for many years. In order for anyone to understand my journey, I must start with some background information on myself to lay the foundation.
I was born into a family that attended a local Baptist church and I was expected to attend every Sunday unless I was sick. I enjoyed going to church so this wasn’t a stretch for me. As a family, we attended on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday nights for dinner and, for me, choir practice. I’ve always loved to sing. When I was 10 I decided to walk the aisle and join the church, which also meant I got to take communion! It looked so cool and I wanted to eat that cracker and drink that juice. I also got baptized. I’m sure that the pastor asked me if I was accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior and I’m sure I answered correctly that this was my intention, but truly as I look back I’m not sure I really understood what it all meant. As I got older I was involved in an organized group for young girls called Acteens. It was, if I remember correctly, kind of like a bible study with a theme of missions. You rose from the ranks and received awards based on your deeds and actions. It was during this time that my mother suddenly died. I was 11 and she had a heart attack during a Sunday morning service. Although we were only 2 minutes from the hospital, she died on the pew. I wasn’t sitting with her that day. An old Sunday School teacher had invited me to sit with her so I was several rows away. I was whisked out of church, along with my younger brother, to the home of some family friends to wait for news from my dad. Sadly, my dad had to come and tell us that mom passed away and we all cried. That was a difficult time for everyone. I couldn’t understand why Jesus had taken my mom away when I needed her so much. My brother was only 3 and my relationship with my dad wasn’t close. I remember people telling me that God had a plan and I’d understand it all one day. That was 46 years ago and I’m still waiting for the big reveal. Anyway, this started a life of questions about God and faith.
Once I reached 18, I promptly left home and went wild. Church was on the back burner and so was God. I discovered that I had an attraction to girls when I was 16 but I also liked boys and I wasn’t sure what that meant. Thankfully I didn’t come from a church background that condemned LGBT people. Actually I don’t remember it ever really being talked about at all. So, with freedom from my dad’s strict rules, I discovered I rather enjoyed exploring this area of my life and many other of life’s adventures such as bars, drinking, smoking and dancing. I still firmly believed in God but just didn’t attend church or think about Him very much. God was just there, in the background. Occasionally I had thoughts of church and God, feeling like perhaps I should go back to church. Eventually I did. I discovered, through my cousin, the newest church in the small south Georgia town I was living in called New Life Fellowship. It was my first exposure to the Charismatic worship style. People were waving flags, dancing and speaking in tongues. Frankly it scared the crap out of me!! I had never seen anything like this. People were actually running the aisles of the church! Eventually, I started visiting several different full gospel, charismatic churches throughout south Georgia just to try and figure it out. I did experience a renewed closeness in my relationship with Jesus and finally settled into a Methodist church that had a great choir and an active singles group. I stayed there until I decided to go back to college and finish my degree. It was there, at Georgia Southern, that I auditioned for and won a spot singing with A New Mind. They were a contemporary Christian singing group that traveled throughout the southeast region singing and working with young people from the churches that hosted us. We were a ministry of the Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist campus ministry. I did that for 2 years before I transferred to Valdosta State and returned to the United Methodist church I had attended previously. I was very active in all aspects of church life and loved my church. I never really put much thought into my doubts during this time. I was told what to believe, so I believed it.
Once I graduated from college and moved back to Jacksonville many things were evolving. I was on a journey to find out more about my ancestry, looking into my bisexuality, and embarking on a new career in education. It took me a while to find a church I enjoyed but I did eventually settle into another United Methodist church. Eventually, though, I would venture out and visit different faith traditions. It was during this time that I visited St. Lukes Metropolitan Community Church. This is a church that caters to predominantly Gay and Lesbian parishioners. It was there that I met my spouse Cori.
Cori has her own journey so I won’t go into the details but I can tell you that she has been a firm believer since an early age. She believes in healing, speaking in tongues, miracles and evangelism. She has a fierce desire to be involved in missions and really wants to see people come to a personal relationship with Jesus. She’s an ordained pastor and throughout our life together she has encouraged me and loved me unconditionally. We started out together at a fast pace. We’ve served side by side in many aspects of church life and teaching. I’ve always been drawn to her passion for the bible and her love for God. We attended many churches together throughout the years, even having a church of our own in Kentucky. We always felt that part of our calling was bridge-building in predominantly straight, heterosexual churches. It seemed we were always being led to have discussions with pastors about becoming more affirming toward the marginalized of our society. We felt that God had a plan to use us in this way. During these years my journey with Jesus was a roller coaster ride of emotions and questions. While her faith was seemingly rock-solid, mine was up and down. She clung to a belief that as the spiritual head of our family it was her responsibility to put Jesus first and encourage me to do the same. I struggled along, eventually agreeing that putting Jesus first was to both of our advantages. But it was here that I started seeing my journey differently from hers. I started expressing the idea that we each had a journey and I was responsible for mine and she was only responsible for hers. While she could certainly give me advice, I answered to Jesus on my own.
By this time we had moved back to Jacksonville after being away in Washington State and Kentucky for 13 years. We returned to help take care of my dad, who was, by this time, quite elderly and not well. We decided to start attending at St. Lukes again, which by this time was not affiliated with the MCC. It was still a church serving the gay and lesbian community and it was very diverse. It was predominantly African American but there we also Latinos and Asians and, of course, white folks, too. There were all ages from newborn to elderly. We had a lot of kids and an active program. Unfortunately, our pastor fell from grace and the church fell apart. It was during this painful time that my focus started to change gradually. I decided that if I was going to return to church, it would not be a gay and lesbian community. There’s lots of reasons why I came to this decision that really could fill a blog all their own so I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say Cori helped me find a new congregation to attend. This was when I started attending The Well @ Springfield pastored by Susan Rogers. This was a totally new experience for me. The Well @ Springfield is a predominately straight congregation that is open and affirming to the LGBT community. They are also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Within the CBF, each congregation decides for themselves who to welcome. This particular congregation also identifies as Progressive Christians, which was new to me. The ideas behind being progressive are probably what escalated this whole issue for me. I had been living a very conservative brand of Christianity for the past 20 years and here I was faced with wonderful people, full of ideas about peace, and compassion and practicing the way of Jesus together. I had never even really thought about Jesus in this way. So this is what my blog will be about from here on out. My questions and discoveries about practicing the way of Jesus and what that means to me. I’ll be shedding old dogmas and doctrines and re-examining my faith and beliefs. I hope others will read my blog and come along on the journey and help sort it all out.