The last time I regularly went to church was on Easter several years ago. I was going through a really difficult time, and I was still struggling to accept my sexuality. I wept uncontrollably for most of the service as the pastor spoke about Jesus' love, grace, hope and forgiveness.
Easter is the most important time for Christians, a time in which they believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins and was resurrected three days later. At the time I didn't believe I was worth Christ's death and resurrection. I didn't believe I deserved to be there as a gay Christian.
I've been deeply hurt by the judgment and anti-gay discourse of Christian communities. I still can't believe what I hear coming out of the church -- no pun intended.
But a few months ago I started a challenge to go back to church. On one of my church challenges, I caught myself looking around as I entered the building, and part of me was afraid of being seen by anyone I knew. I had similar thoughts and fears when I started going to gay bars. I laughed at the irony of the situation and how much life had changed.
How could a place that used to feel like home become so foreign to me? How did I become a stranger who sat at the back of the church, planning an escape route in case it was too difficult to be there?
It has been several years since I've regularly attended a church or been part of a Christian community. I grew up in the church and played the piano, taught Sunday school, worked for a Christian organization and was even on a church board. I wonder if they would've asked me to be in that position if they'd known I was gay.
Over the past few months I've been trying to find my way back to pursuing God on a regular basis. I know you don't need a church building to find God, and I've experienced his presence in powerful ways outside the church and Christian communities. However, I've missed having that community and actively seeking God with other people.
I didn't realize how difficult this journey would be to find that place of home. Some churches have been boring or overwhelming, while others have been welcoming. Some have made me want to give up and leave the church for good, reminding me why I left in the first place.
In one of my experiences, the guest speaker was from the U.S. and immediately identified as an "ex-gay minister." She tied the theme of "seeking the lost" to her own experiences as a "lost" gay woman.
She shared about living the "homosexual lifestyle" before finding Jesus, who healed the wounds of her past. Since Jesus healed her brokenness, she said she is now happily married to a man. It took everything in me not to leave.
What were the chances that I'd choose that church on that Sunday with that guest speaker? I left the service in tears, and I wanted to run away as far as possible.
Running away, however, has never gotten me very far. It has often led me to places of shame, self-hatred and losing a piece of myself. I've come to realize that my sexuality and spirituality are at the core of who I am, and I'm not a whole person without living openly and freely in these parts of my identity.
I want to see the church become a place where people who have been marginalized can feel safe, loved and welcomed. I also desire to see lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) communities become a place where Christians can be accepted.
I've experienced stigma in Christian and LGBTQ communities, and I long for respectful dialogue and understanding between these groups. We need to continue having these conversations within and outside the church, and actually listen to people's experiences instead of placing them in narrow boxes and stereotypes.
The church is so broken, but it has also been a place of love, safety and refuge for many people, including me. Many of my friends who are gay and Christian long for this place of community again, but many don't feel welcomed there.
We need to do something different and not be afraid of the tensions and complexities. Let's be OK with sitting in the mess and questions with one another. Let's remember what Jesus' message was actually about.
I have no idea where my journey will take me or where I'll discover that community of acceptance. I just know I won't give up until I find my back home -- wherever that place may be.