Into the Mystic: Planting Seeds
Not long ago, I found myself on the phone in conversation with the woman who now pastors my first church.
Sometimes good seed falls on good soil and takes root and grows. What good seeds have you sown into the world, and have seen grow into wonderful harvests?
Not long ago, I found myself on the phone in conversation with the woman who now pastors my first church. They had just voted themselves to become an Open and Affirming Church, the first of the ten UCC churches in Lafayette county. I was crying halfway through the call, overcome with some powerful emotion as I heard her say “You planted these seeds years ago.”
In my denomination, an Open and Affirming designation signals to the LGBTQ community that you are open to all; and that you affirm their lifestyle. It is an important, and in some places, a controversial distinction. That would be the case in Mayview, a town of a little more than 210 miles from a loaf of bread and a gallon of gas and the place where my own ministry began in 1988.
I served there for eight years. The children I baptized, confirmed, and took around the country on mission trips are now parents themselves. I cried the day I drove the moving van away to serve my next church. The town and the people had claimed enough of my heart that letting go was hard. To this day, Mimi and I look back on that time with joy and deep gratification. The people we served there are among the most genuine, kind, forgiving people we have ever known.
I remember very clearly the day I preached about Open and Affirming in that church almost 30 years ago. It upset them greatly. Some wrestled deeply and honestly with the idea and came to appreciate that it just might be the way of Jesus to love everybody unconditionally and to practice what we would later come to know in our denomination as the ‘no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here’ way of being church. Others saw it differently, having been taught that homosexuality was a sinful way of life and that we would compromise core gospel values to say otherwise.
In time, I realized my presence there was going to fuel the kind of debate that a church like that could suffer from deeply. I didn’t want to leave, but it was clear that the preservation of this church and those relationships was more important than me sticking around long enough to win or lose a vote. So, yeah – I cried when the van pulled away. A huge part of me still resides there – the spirit of those beautiful people still reminding me of what it means to be a child of God.
About a year ago, the pastor there, the Rev. Kristin Aardema Faigh told me the Council had called for a study of how to become an Open and Affirming Church. It was a thrill to hear it, a joy to know it. But it wasn’t a given by any means it would happen.
I was sitting at a dinner table with leaders from our churches in Milwaukee on a recent Sunday night when my phone buzzed, My wife had just texted me: Zion United Church of Christ in Mayview, Mo., voted to become an Open and Affirming Church. Through tears, I stopped the dinner conversation and shared that news with my table mates. We all rejoiced. Andrew, in whose home we were and at whose table we sat, was there with his husband. Julie, who had extended to me the invitation to be in Milwaukee that night, sat there with her wife. This is the church – the body of Christ. And it is beautiful.
You never know, my friends.
But you plant.
And sometimes good seed falls on good soil and bears good fruit. May it be so for you on this, your journey Into the Mystic.