Last weekend was one high in religiousness and spirituality.
Saturday was the monthly Gansha Sankashti I observe and was also the Winter Solstice – a day that yearly surprises me at how early it seems to come. And Sunday, at the request of a dear friend, I visited a Lutheran church for the congregation’s Advent concert.
The church is called Servants of Christ Lutheran Church, it’s about 20 minutes from my home, and their website can be found here. The friend who invited me is one I’ve mentioned before and despite our sometimes enormous differences, she remains someone very dear to me. I think, knowing what I know about her, that this isn’t likely to ever change. People will always be in my heart.
This church experience was fabulous. And I mean it. I don’t know that it played into my experience at all, but I genuinely felt welcome. I shook the hands of only one or two people as I entered and not fifteen feet inside the main entrance I was hardly getting to ask if someone (a random person I grabbed on to) knew where my friend was when I heard, “Hi Josh!” and found myself in one of the best hugs ever. A mom hug.
Soon enough I was seated in a pew with my friend’s family – something I was glad for because otherwise I was only going to grab the first empty place I saw, and I’m already well aware that every church family has their favorite seating.
In addition to the family members I sat with there were only two other people in our pew – a seniorly couple. For as long as I live I’ll never forget these two, particularly the wife. She welcomed me, once, briefly but warmly and calling me “friend.” At another time, when congregants were shaking hands and “sharing” with each other peace, she took my right hand in both of hers and said sweetly with a smile something along the lines of, “Peace to you, friend.” We interacted once more when she was returning from communion – we both laughed as I quickly and briefly placed both of my legs up into the pew so she and her husband could pass me while returning their seats. I think the effort I went to – so suddenly – to allow her to pass easily somehow tickled her.
The music was great. A mixture, really. Very classy and classical. It included performances by the handbell choir, which my friend is a part of. Such an interesting instrument! My favorite ones are those that sound off a deeper tone.
I recall some of the scripture read during the service. Various parts of the old and new testaments. Nothing super challenging, but I remember noticing a difference between my interpretation and that understood by the church. Still, I experienced beauty even in those times.
One of the greatest things I took from the experience will also follow me for a very long time. I felt welcome. Sincerely, even. People called me friend, and it really felt genuine. There have been many times in my life, while surrounded by Christians, when I was welcomed with smiles and handshakes and being called things like “friend” …and it didn’t feel like this.
For someone like me, formally hated by most of the church in its various forms worldwide – even to the point that in some places these same people would even possibly go so far as to beat me to near death with a board before dousing me in kerosene and cremating me alive – to be greeted in the spirit I was greeted, could literally mean the difference between life and death. Whether at the hands of those others or at my own hands.
It wasn’t overkill – like they were just trying to make sure I’d come back. It wasn’t a technicality being met – like so many churches that are more about numbers and warm bodies than anything else. (I’ve known those churches all too well and they are, sadly, the majority.) And when the old woman shared peace with me, I received it. I really received it. Really. These things could make a difference in the life of anyone visiting, but for someone like me – who was once literally kicked out of a church and continues to be considered a second-class citizen (and often worse!) in large part because of the church’s views and unwillingness to stay out of government – it makes an immense difference.
It will be a long – long – time before I’m “into” Christianity again. I think the church as a whole has much evolving to do. And to be honest, if it fully evolved over night, there are still wounds that only time can heal. Probably entire generations of people like myself would need to come and pass before the church’s long history with violence against gays can be swept under the so-called rug. But if there’s a place where this evolution might already be in process, Servants of Christ Lutheran Church could be it.
Aum namo christaya namah
Aum namo mitraya namaha
Aum namo christaya namah
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha