This Is Our Church

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“The singing was the most beautiful sound in the world! More than once, I had to stop singing and just listen. I couldn’t get some of the words out through the tears. Some would say that in those moments, our sexual orientation didn’t matter. For me, though, it did.”

Yesterday, I shared the first part of Criselda’s moving story. Today, I am honored to continue to share that with you, in her words, from her heart…

I was raised Catholic, with strict Catholic rules. One that stuck with me for many years is: “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” So, when I realized I was gay, my struggle with the church really began.

I attended mass with my partner but did not receive communion, because I knew I was not living according to the church’s teaching. Finally, I quit attending. As much as I longed to be in church, I just could not bear what I was hearing, and I could not bear being unable to participate fully. A friend tried to talk me into going to a parish that was gay-friendly, where I could receive communion with no problems. But I struggled with that idea too; I fully believed that because they were gay-friendly they were not a true Catholic church, as they seemed to contradict the teaching of the church and the Vatican. Over time, the words coming from the Vatican felt more and more like a personal attack on me. I truly felt that as I read each new article, my name was right there in bold print, and I was being called out for being gay. Ultimately, I decided I could no longer call myself Catholic.

Now what? If I couldn’t be Catholic, I couldn’t be anything else, either. That’s what I was taught. I longed to be part of a church community, but I just couldn’t let that idea go. So, for almost 13 years, I sat stagnant. I simply couldn’t try other denominations. It wasn’t until a therapist said to me, “Criselda, the Catholic church is not God.” That planted a seed that eventually led me to explore an American Baptist church. That church welcomed me with open arms. It felt so good to be a part of a church community again. Before I knew it, I was being baptized, welcomed as a full member and then into leadership. I was told repeatedly how valued my input was and that I brought a different and needed perspective. I felt that ALL of me was being fully accepted… until I raised a question to the board.

Our church had been sponsoring a scouting organization that discriminated against gays at the time. I tried to be silent, because I knew it was important for the survival of the church that we sponsor this group. But I just couldn’t. I felt it deserved at least a conversation so I brought it up to the church leadership.

I received only two responses, by email. Neither came from the pastor, nor from the very people that had repeatedly told me they valued my input. Their silence spoke volumes to me, and revealed their true hearts. I tried to carry on as though it did not affect me but inside, it did. I felt I had made myself vulnerable, and they would not really accept who I was. I finally decided that I could no longer attend this church. No hateful words were spoken…but silence was. So, for almost a year, I have been searching for a church that will honor ALL of me, not just part of me.

Then came the Gay Christian Network conference just a couple weeks ago. Here were 700+ Christians singing praises to God with all their heart and soul… and they were all GLBT, allies or advocates. I never felt more united with my brothers and sisters in Christ than I did that weekend. I was still a minority race, I was still female, but for the first time, I was able to fully embrace and celebrate with others that I am a gay Christian!

And the singing was the most beautiful sound in the world! More than once, I had to stop singing and just listen. I couldn’t get some of the words out through the tears. Some would say that in those moments, our sexual orientation didn’t matter. For me, though, it did.

Marg, one of my new sisters in Christ, explained on her blog the tears many of us experienced: “There were 700 very different people standing in that hotel ballroom in Chicago. 700 people singing together. 700 people of all ages, all orientations, of different minds about how LGBT Christians are called to walk through this life and this world. These 700 people had been told that people like us have no place in any church. Yet here we were, singing together, experiencing connection, creating and magnifying the presence of God. All very well aware of one thing. We belong. This is ours. This is the one we created; this is our church.” Then she said, “I may have worked through the grief and pain associated with losing my church and what I thought my life would be, in my head, but my body still has a lot of grieving to do.”

I guess the conference was like a 3½ day therapy session for me – with lots of crying. Despite all the shared pain and suffering, we also felt the overwhelming love of God. We are of one body because we are ALL children of God. What a great comfort.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  I hope this matters to you.

– Criselda

[Photo Credit: Daniel Rarela – Dr. J Photography]

4 thoughts on “This Is Our Church

  1. Wow! What a story….thank you Criselda for opening up your heart and Susan, for sharing her story! What a brave young lady! I do hope she can find a church back home that she truly feel a part of.

  2. Thanks for this Susan. I remember the first time that I went to an affirming church 20 years ago and cried like a baby when we sang “Just As I Am.” Growing up, I sang that song hundreds of times in my Southern Baptist church. But it’s a different experience for LGBT people of faith because it’s more like singing “Just As You Think I Am” or “Just As The Church Tells Me I Should Be.” When I sang that song in an affirming church I experienced the congruency of actually being in church with my partner as an openly gay man worshipping God “Just As I Really Am.”

    Thanks for all you are doing to make a difference in the world.

    • You’re welcome, Jeff. I totally grasp the depth of “hiding” of self in those earlier experiences and the relief of being yourself in the later experiences. It’s like wearing someone else’s skin. I have felt similarly bound in some of my church experiences, and it is completely counter to the freedom Christ so clearly offers. Thanks for the wonderful comment.

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