About 5 or 6 years ago things started to change for me spiritually. The church I was attending had fallen apart and I was adrift with no idea what would come next. Cori and I had lived through many different church experiences, some good and some bad. The worst was, of course, the demise of our church that we started in Kentucky. We spent 2 years after that disaster meeting in our home with the 1 parishioner that had not abandoned us. It was, in many ways, a spiritual desert where we tried to stay alive by watching other pastors on the internet and getting our worship off of YouTube. For Cori it was especially difficult which meant that I had to not only find my way but I had to encourage and support her through the hardest trial of our lives. So when this church we were attending in Jacksonville, Florida fell apart I sort of took it in stride. I made a decision then and there that I would no longer attend predominantly gay and lesbian based churches any longer. I felt that I wanted something much more blended. Cori and I had always felt called to build bridges between gay and straight churches. We imagined that God envisioned a church where people of all walks of life, all colors, all sexual orientations would worship together. So when I was ready to start over we looked for a church that would, at the very least, meet one or two of those criteria. That’s when I started attending The Well @ Springfield.
Let me start by telling you a little about my church. At the time I joined them they were about 1 year old. They were meeting in a store-front type building that they rented. The people I met were warm and welcoming. There were a mix of young and older, straight and gay and a smattering of racial diversity. The format was familiar but the language and ideas were new. This was a group of people who were becoming a church that was concerned about social justice, who welcomed the poor and homeless, and who talked about Jesus in a way I hadn’t experienced. The very fact that I was welcomed without hesitation was new for me. I was very used to infiltrating straight churches and being direct about who I was but here I was welcomed without an agenda. From the beginning I was leery. I struggled to accept this welcoming stance because I was used to having to defend my right to worship God and argue for the privilege. But as the weeks became months and months turned into years I was able to relax and trust that this was authentic welcome.
The second thing I then had to adjust to was the way they spoke about Jesus. As a conservative Christian I talked about God quite a bit and, while I know they are the same yet separate, I was unfamiliar with the familiarity with which they referenced Jesus. The vision statement for the church states that The Well @ Springfield is a group of people practicing the way of Jesus together by loving their neighbor, their city and the world. Practicing the way of Jesus was new to me. In order for me to practice the way of Jesus I had to really examine the way of Jesus and how he related to the people of his day. For me to emulate that required me to look at it from a different angle. And herein lies the beginning of the my journey away from fundamental Christianity and a move toward progressive Christianity.
From the beginning my way of thinking and believing began to change. It was an uncomfortable transition. Anytime your time-honored, well-reasoned beliefs are challenged it’s uncomfortable. I have been a believer all my life and for a great part of my adult life I’ve been married to a woman who’s faith has been, for the most part, unwavering. My faith has always been different than Cori’s. I’ve had seasons of doubt and questioning which I always struggled with. I’ve had moments of great insights and knowing beyond question I had heard from God. But although those moments were awesome, there were so many things I didn’t understand, which would lead me to truly question my beliefs. I know every believer has doubts, although how they’re handled varies from church to church. I have always been encouraged to just pray harder, seek the face of God, press in, and other Christian directives. I’ve looked around at other Christians to see how they handle their doubts. I remember telling Cori that as a young adult believer, trying to fit in at local charismatic churches, I just couldn’t figure out the secret that everyone else seemed to know. They were speaking a language that confused me. Even the way they dressed seemed so different from me. I tried to fit in but always felt like an outsider. I pursued bible studies and sang in choirs and on worship teams and read my bible from cover to cover but I still felt oddly out of place. I put on the Christian face and pretended I was in the know but for the most part I just sort of floated along. Now it would be wrong of me to say I never grew in my relationship with God because I did. I sat under some fine teachers and being married to Cori gave me a great advantage as her knowledge of the Bible is remarkable. She can make a bible story come to life for me. But often what I heard in those stories was dysfunction in families, drama, violence, and sadness. I think the Bible could give reality television a run for it’s money!
Anyway, I was starting to journey with a group of people who seemed not only okay with my doubts but who shared some of them. Around about the third year we started having discussion groups called 3D; dinner, discussion and discovery. We usually read a book together or watched video clips of progressive pastors and thinkers and discussed what we had read or heard after sharing a meal together. During this time Susan, our pastor, decided to offer a group that would take place during Lent where people would share their story about their journey. We had 15 minutes and everyone was encouraged to be honest and nonjudgmental towards one another. After a person shared the group was asked to take a couple of minutes to think about what they had heard and offer words of encouragement to the sharer. Someone jotted down those words and each person got to take the comments home to keep them encouraged on their journey. What I remember most about that first group was the raw, honest stories I heard. People were really being honest and real, not hiding their doubts or struggles, but sharing in a way I’ve never heard before in any church. I remember thinking “Wow I would never have guessed that about that person!” It was eye-opening and touched something in me like never before. I listened to stories of people losing their entire belief in God yet they were still at our church because this was the first place they felt safe and not judged!
Next I’ll share where I went from there.