It was April of 2013 and I was finishing my first year of Seminary and my fiancee, Don and I were going to church with a friend about a half hour south of my school. None of us knew what the sermon was going to be about that day. I invited friends from school to come along with us, a couple from Tanzania and a young lady who had emigrated to the United States from Mexico with her family when she was in middle school. So there we were the five of us in the third pew, or essentially the front row because no one ever sits in the front two pews in church, five unfamiliar faces to the pastor. She was passionate and energetic, she prayed with the fire of the Holy Spirit in her heart right up until it was time for the sermon and then she looked nervous. I thought to myself that seems strange that a pastor who was so confident and passionate just a few minutes ago would be nervous and then she looked over at the five of us and said;
“It is always on the day that God gives you the hardest sermon that God fills the pews.”
Then she began to give the reconciling sermon. I had heard reconciling sermons before, my fiancee and I were Reconciling United Methodists but what I did not know was that he had never really heard a reconciling sermon given by a Pastor on a Sunday morning before. My fiancee had been baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church and had been an active member of several United Methodist Congregations near our home in Upstate New York. I did not know however that during the majority of his adult years he had attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church with his family. It was not his first choice of where to worship but he did not change churches until he became a widower soon before he met me, in my United Methodist Church.
So while I sat there listening to a very impassioned and well laid out argument for full inclusion of all people in the church, my fiancee was hearing for the very first time that God loved every member of his family just as much as God loved everyone else. Having left the United Methodist Church before the Reconciling Movement began he had followed all of the changes in our Book Of Discipline through the printed subscription he had to United Methodist Reporter and through other media sources but he had never experienced in a worship setting the personal feeling of being told by an ordained clergyperson that God loved everyone, not just heterosexuals.
When the sermon was over we sang “Christ Has Broken Down The Walls” a Hymn by Mark Miller who is the music director at Drew Theological School where I was attending Seminary. I had sung the words many times in my first year there and so that too was familiar and not unusual for me to hear, but Don had never heard the hymn before and his experience was very different. We finished singing and the service was over and so I turned to my right to hug my friend before turning to Don and that is when I saw the tears just running down his face and as I embraced him I could feel him shaking and he said to me;
This is how Church is supposed to be!”
In that moment I said what has become a vow for me, I told him; “Honey, I will do everything within my power to make sure that this is how church will be!” From that Sunday forward we visited a different Reconciling Congregation each Sunday. Traveling to places like Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC, and Church of The Village in Greenwich Village, and Tabernacle UMC in Binghamton, NY, and to the church that I just became a member of this month Christ Church UMC in Troy NY.
In posts to come you will hear more about my commitment to help make church what it should be; a place of welcome and love for all persons regardless of their race, age, gender, ability, or sexual orientation. For now I will let you know that I have signed the Altar for All agreement put forth by the Love Your Neighbor Coalition of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and I have agreed to volunteer ten days of my time to help the LYN Coalition do the work it needs to do in Portland, OR for General Conference 2016.
I will never know what the impact of the pastor’s sermon was on her own congregation. I am not a member of that church and not long after that time the friend who had invited us to visit moved on herself so I don’t have ties to the small congregation. If there were any hearts or minds that were opened to seeing God in a new dimension by the pastor’s words the effect of those changes might not be visible for quite some time, but what I do know is this; a heart was healed that Sunday morning. It was a heart that had been broken by the church many times before and the healing of that one heart is something any pastor can rejoice about, and that is when God’s people can say; Amen!