My church didn’t ask for permission. We declared it.

I came out to my church.

Really.

When I went through my process of coming out, I stood in front of my church during our time in the service when we share prayers of the people, asked everyone to close their eyes because I didn’t want anyone looking at me, and I said that I am gay and Christian.

I didn’t ask for permission. I declared it.

I remember meeting with my pastor a few weeks before I came out to our entire church. I asked some straightforward questions to make sure I knew where she stood, and Pastor Dee told me where she was. At one point, she said to me, “You can bring whoever you want to this church.”

In the midst of a non-affirming denomination and theology that has encompassed your entire Christian walk, imagine hearing that from your pastor.

My pastor didn’t ask for permission. She declared it.

When I finished sharing, my church APPLAUDED. There are not a lot of churches that will allow someone to stand up and say, “I am gay, and I am set free.”  There are fewer that will begin applauding to share their joy for you. There are even fewer asking you to stay up front for a special prayer – not to convert you to heterosexuality, but to BLESS you in your goodness and humanity.

What really told me my church stood by me, though, was when they nominated six individuals to a leadership team to lead us through the future of our church, and I was nominated to be one of them.

We didn’t just say we were inclusive (inclusive in technical language, but affirming in policy/practice); we lived it.

My church didn’t ask for permission. They declared it.

***

My church community of Lighthouse Mpls is dissolving and holding our final celebration this month.

I found this community in December 2017 when I googled “churches in North Minneapolis.” I opened all the tabs of options that popped up, and I quickly closed out most of them. However, Lighthouse caught my eye after I watched a video on the website and listened to a few sermons from Pastor Dee. What really got me, though, is that she is a former Gopher women's volleyball player, and I am a Gopher women's volleyball super fan. Talk about prophetic. I was ready to dive in, yet I was also still hesitant. I wasn't ready for this to be just another evangelical church.

After I showed up the first Sunday in December, I quickly realized it wasn’t. This wasn’t the traditional salvation-is-the-only-path-to-eternity church. This was a place where the hard topics were talked about – where heaven truly clashed with earth. It was a place where I learned what it meant to be “in the world” vs. “of the world.” I was ready to commit, and I continued to come back.

Yet, a question lingered with me. I had just told my parents I thought I was gay only a month earlier. I had come to a queer-affirming stance in my theology a long time ago, but it was a theology I wasn’t ready to embrace for myself yet. Could this be a church where I could come out?

Honestly, it wasn’t clear for a few months. I knew the denomination wasn’t affirming, but the topic wasn’t addressed much, although there seemed to be something about the community and Pastor Dee that was different. Even if the church itself wasn’t affirming, I reconciled with myself that I would keep going because I loved the community so much.

It became clear three months later in March. Pastor Dee would preach a sermon that addressed the question at the back of my mind each Sunday. She didn’t declare us an affirming church; I’m not sure she could if she wanted to, given our denomination. Instead, we became an “inclusive” church. In our context, that meant anyone who identified as LGBTQIA+ could serve in any capacity, including staff, leadership and worship. It wasn’t affirming in language, but it was essentially affirming in practice with our denominational constraints.

I didn’t need Lighthouse’s permission to exist, but I felt an enormous burden lifted as members of our community lived into that affirmation afterward. It was in the weeks following that sermon I would begin an extensive process having one-on-one conversations with 50+ individuals in my life and coming out to them. The process would last nearly the entire summer, and I decided I wanted to share my truth in front of the entire Lighthouse community.

I stepped up to the microphone at the end of our prayers of the people on August 5, nervous and vulnerable, and I declared my truth. They applauded and blessed my liberation. It is something many queer people don’t even know is possible in a church.

I have been doing a lot of reflecting on what worship actually is – in the context of song and praise, but also in community. I have wondered why I feel so comfortable in worship at Lighthouse, but not in many other places. How in the world could I stand in front of 40 people at church and declare my truth? After I came out, it has become more difficult to sit in non-affirming church spaces than ever before.

Perhaps, true worship is not experienced solely as an individual encounter with God, but instead, it is experienced as both an individual and communal encounter with God. A community that cultivates the image of God in each other, creates a brave space and tells people they are beloved suddenly becomes worship in itself. It becomes a space where we worship as both a community and also in an authentic, individual encounter where we are comfortable experiencing the fullness of God’s presence. This kind of worship is sacred, and it has always been cultivated at Lighthouse.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Lighthouse was part of the reason I came out. It is not an exaggeration to say that Lighthouse is one of the reasons I am going to seminary. It is not an exaggeration to say that Lighthouse saved my faith. It is not an exaggeration to say Lighthouse altered the course of my life.

When it comes down to it, Lighthouse is part of my story, and its piece in my story was one of the most profound I have known. Without it, I am not sure I would know who God really is.

In the past nine months, our community has literally had seven pregnancies at one time in a worship space of 40-50 people. I constantly have seen these pregnancies in the eyes of new life, and I often saw a parallel to the creation of life in our community.

When our leadership team was discerning for the final time the direction of Lighthouse, we didn’t want to let go of the community we had. It was clear God had given us something that was not only making a difference in our community, but also in the lives of each other.

I see that glimmer of life in so many little things that I will miss. Watching our kids run out in the middle of the parking lot to welcome churchgoers as only kids can do. Seeing pieces of wood chip off of the drummer’s drumsticks as he worshipped God in the way he knew how to. Resetting all of the lunch tables in the cafeteria so Olson Middle School could return to its regular function. The prayers of our people, a benediction from Howard Thurman, and even the pipe and drape.

There has always been something alive at Lighthouse – these breaths of fresh air that flowed through the community each Sunday and the time we spent in relationship and ministry between those days. Whether it was deconstructing misogynist misinterpretation of Biblical text, denouncing the caging of children at the border or praying together for the LGBTQIA+ community, Lighthouse has always been different. We showed up in our community and thought larger than our community, but we also showed up for each other.

Out of the sorrow of what will be missed comes a deep gratitude for what occurred, and there is so much life yet to come. To my Lighthouse family, we did the thing we have been called to do. We loved each other, our community and the Divine.

And we didn’t ask for permission on how to do it. We declared it.