Thursday, May 12, 2011

Samantha

The following three posts are bonus chapters, not included in the novel. They'll give you a feel for the Church of Whosoever. Enjoy!


Gary was running late, which he hated.  He breathed a prayer for calm and made his way to the circle of chairs and people expectantly waiting for him.  A few of them had cups of coffee in their hands and some sweets that someone usually brought to the study.

Tonight eight people were in attendance.  The number fluctuated between five and sometimes fifteen but typically hovered around six to eight.  They came to learn more about the church but also to share their personal stories of faith.

For many, these stories were not happy ones.  Being gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, a cross-dresser, or a transvestite in any mainstream religion, let alone mainstream America, was rarely easy. Gary had seen the internal bruising so many of his flock had endured in the churches of their upbringing.  In some cases, the damage was severe, which explained perhaps why the church found it difficult to sustain membership beyond a certain threshold. People came to COW hoping that the pains of the past would be forgotten, or melt away or transform themselves into something more positive but such transformation took time, forgiveness (especially of one's self), prayer and a commitment and energy that many found daunting.  And sometimes, even though it welcomed all and worked mightily to avoid the pitfalls of other churches, COW would remind some of what they disliked in organized religion.  It was, after all, a human enterprise fraught with human failings and frailties. 

As he poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down among the group, Gary internally mused that anyone hoping to find a place free of hypocrites wasn’t going to find it at COW.  If this was what kept them away or caused them to leave, he could do little to change the fact, except to help them understand the true purpose of church and why coming, despite whatever drama existed, mattered.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said. “I was visiting Bertie at St. Luke’s.  She went in this morning.  The doctor said it was a mild stroke.  She’ll be there for a few days.  Thankfully, she’s already beginning to recover from the mild paralysis it caused.  We’ll be sure to say a prayer for her at the end.”

He took a sip of coffee and set the cup on the floor beside his chair.  “All right.  If I recall correctly, Samantha was going to share her story and how she came to COW. Are you ready, Sam?”

Samantha nodded in ascent. She was large and lively, quick to smile and always reaching out to others, not just for their sake but also her own.  When she first arrived at COW, she’d rarely look anyone squarely in the eyes.  When she did, she betrayed a familiar hurt that was yet its own, for no one’s hurt is quite the same.  Every now and then, you still saw glimpses of it.

She spoke plainly, knowingly:

I did not have much exposure to church growing up. I went to a few churches with friends as a teenager, but mostly for social activities, not services. I didn’t feel especially welcome when I was around the adults.  Maybe I already felt judged.  Growing up was hard enough without feeling further ostracized.  Besides, I remember my Grandma telling me that I didn’t have to go to church to believe in God. 

I had no idea what I was missing!

I started coming to COW – off and on, mostly on holidays – when my daughter was growing up. This would have been in the 80’s. About six years ago my daughter and I had a huge falling out over my grandson.  He had lived with me for about 18 months and then went back to her.  I miss him terribly.  I’ll spare the gory details, but I ended up only getting supervised visits with him, and was convinced God was punishing me with all this pain.

I was so frustrated and hurt, and I felt helpless.  I didn’t know where else to turn.  I reached out to Pastor Gary and spent hours on the phone with him that first time.  He was so helpful.

Maybe out of a sense of gratitude and indebtedness, I started coming to services on a regular basis.  Pastor Gary is such a powerful sermon-giver.  I felt he was speaking "to me" every time. He kept me coming back. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. This was the only church I ever felt comfortable in. I can honestly say that COW changed my life. From the day of my first attendance, I felt like everyone accepted me for me.

Oh, and at some point, I realized that God wasn’t punishing me.  I believe that God only brings good into our lives. People do bad things, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and that’s why we need God.  But people also do wonderfully good things.  That’s also why we need God…to fill our hearts with the good and crowd out the bad.

The reason I keep coming to COW is because of the relationships. When my real family starting falling apart, I found and made a new family here. They love me and express God's love in ways I can’t begin to describe, although it’s really simple, as I said: they accept me for who I am, even as they help me to become a better, more loving person.

Recently, I started visiting other churches, perhaps because I sense that my faith journey is just beginning.  I don’t want to get complacent.  I’ve discovered different atmospheres that can also be affirming and full of love. This certainly wasn’t true years ago when I first starting coming to COW.  Time has caused so many more churches to accept and embrace the LGBT community.

Sometimes a church can fill a need for a time, but you may have to move on to grow. I am not sure what my future holds but COW has taught me what being a Christian is like. I will be forever grateful.

Oh, the music is part of why I stay too. It uplifts me every time.

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