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Gary Nelson

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Getting Churchy in a Time of Chaos and Hate: A Personal Journey

Posted: 06/05/2012 11:01 am

I had a meltdown one year ago in the spring. A personal experience I now choose to make public. Fear and depression seeped in through the unlocked door and met me square in the face, confronting me with truths about my health and mortality. I retreated into myself and tried to find that essence of what I call "me" to fight back. It was nowhere to be found, missing in action. The familiar soon became the strange. I used to think that if I sat in my most comfortable chair, sipping on coffee, eventually I would come to a place in my mind where peace would reign supreme. Not this time. Comfort was fleeting and even somewhat elusive. Even sleep, normally my respite, became another dance with the unwelcome strangers.

It is at times like this that I find myself not only vulnerable, but skeptical as well. My physician recommended anti-anxiety medications which, I was told, would kick in anywhere between two to six weeks. I did the Googling and discovered that SSRIs are more effective with people who are severely depressed. For those like me, who are in the moderate range, the effectiveness is less than stellar. I gave it a shot though, and depended more or less on the placebo effect, or the medication, to take hold of my fear and pain.

The meds didn't seem to be enough. I had a yearning for something else, more permanent, which is why I turned to a church. Always one to tell others that religion has been a crutch for the weak, and the cause of wars, prejudices and everything abhorrent, I had to eat a little crow. It was worth it though, because I found something I was looking for, at least for now, in the most unlikely of places.

About one city block from the Stonewall Jackson Monument in Richmond, Va., I found St Mark's Episcopal Church. Being in the heart of this former Capital of the Confederacy, I was surprised to see them advertise as being "an inclusive church," which is a code for gay friendly. My first foray into the sanctuary came on an evening in March when there was to be a candlelight prayer service. More prayer, less of a sermon, caught my attention. I was greeted by the Rector in the narthex who held her arms open and welcomed me to St. Mark's. She told me if I liked the service, I should come back for more on Sunday.

I did come back for more, and I met more of the church leaders and some of the congregants. One of the first I met was the Director of Lay Ministry. I spoke with her outside the church kitchen as she was inviting me to go to one of those confirmation classes. I told her I wasn't sold on this whole religion thing. Before I could launch into one of my diatribes about the evils of organized religion, she said to me, "Church is an organization of people. That's all it is, complete with all the foibles and faults that people carry with them."

I stopped and thought for a minute. Had I been wrong about any of this? I rarely misconstrue what is presented to me, even with the big stuff in life like religion. It's what the people believe that I question, I concluded. Then I smugly went about my business.

By early summer, my depression and anxiety had abated. Admittedly, I expected my church attendance to dwindle as well. To my surprise, I continued to go to church, and I even got involved with some of their outreach activities. Clearly diversity is welcomed in this church. From the occasional homeless person who wanders into the service, to the jovial, cigar-smoking, southern-born Associate Rector who is always outside the church to greet everyone, the term "inclusive" is translated literally. There is something rich about worshipping with people who are on the other side of ourselves. It's as if someone has taken a random group of people from Kroger's Grocery Store, and put us all in front of the altar to receive communion. The texture of its people, the acceptance of many diverse families, singles and couples, for me, is why I continue to stay involved at St. Mark's.

I was confirmed this past Sunday. Ironically, at the same time I was being confirmed, a couple hundred miles to the south at Providence Road Baptist Church, Pastor Worley and his congregation, were defiantly holding to their convictions that people like me should be gathered up and put in some sort of camp where we can all die out. Unfortunately, there are Christians, including other Episcopalians, all over the world who feel the same way as Pastor Worley. It's no wonder so many of my brothers and sisters shun organized religions. Even though now I am a member of the Episcopal faith, I still have a problem reconciling these seemingly polar opposite versions of Christianity. How do I defend my religion to disenfranchised LGBTQ people? Am I to accept people like Rev. Worley as Christians, even if they don't accept me?

There are those who pose the question, "Why don't decent law abiding Muslims condemn Muslim terrorists?"

Now, I'm asking Christian leaders the same question. Why do you not condemn the so called Christians who preach hate and violence against their fellow man?

 

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