Living and Loving Without Labels
Let me tell you about my church. Highlands Church in Denver turned seven years old this month. If my church were a child, it would be starting second grade, enjoying the last year before the god awful standardized testing begins.
Mark Tidd dreamed up the idea of Highlands, and he and his wife, LeAnn, began funding the new church themselves. When Mark dared to tell his sponsoring church the new congregation would be open to LGBTQ people, they pulled not only their support, but the money he and his wife had personally given to get the church underway. It was not a little bit of money. It reminds me of the words spoken by Samuel Hamilton in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden: “It takes courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it is usually crucifixion.”
Mark persevered and mortgaged his house to lease a place for the new church to meet and Highlands was born. About 800 people now call the church home. Rachael McClair joined the staff early on, with Jenny Morgan added a little later. All three are co-pastors, forming the unique trinitarian leadership I wrote about three weeks ago.
After I transitioned I was struggling, suffering from my experience with the church. I thought my church life was over. I attended a few mainline Protestant churches, but the worship was foreign and the churches lacked the vibrancy I had come to expect. Instead, I acquiesced to the pull of the mountain biking trails on Sunday mornings. I was disappointed, but I moved on.
A former co-worker introduced me to Mark Tidd. Our first lunch together lasted almost three hours. I thought I was special. I didn’t know every lunch with Mark lasts three hours. I attended my first service a few months later and cried as I had not cried since I received the call to transition. I knew I was called back to the church, and more specifically, to Highlands. Highlands Church was not a part of my religious tradition, but my own tradition had rejected Paula, so I went where I was welcomed.
It is my privilege to serve with the church planting team at Highlands, preparing for our first church plant in 2017. They even allow me to preach occasionally. Through Highlands, I am also working with OPEN (opennetworkus.org), a network of progressive Evangelicals led by courageous people like Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. I also serve as a coach and church planting assessor with the Center for Progressive Renewal, an outreach (as is OPEN) of the ministry of Convergence, a joint effort of five mainline denominations, under the direction of the very capable Cameron Trimble.
Sometimes tears come during services. An old hymn goes up on screen and a memory stirs, now redeemed. Mark or Jenny will preach a sermon that asks more questions than it provides answers, and I tear up at the honesty and humility of it all. Christy, with whom I often sit, reaches over and rubs my back when my tears begin, and I know all manner of things shall be well.
I have overseen the planting of many churches in my day. Only one has taken the courageous path of Highlands, and that church too has paid a price for its courage. I have tremendous respect for the church’s leadership. I’ll let that church remain nameless. They make enough wonderful noise on their own.
In my heart I am an optimist. The Mets will win another World Series. Americans will do the right thing in November, and the church will rid itself of fear and love boldly. For millennia God has patiently worked through the creation to make crooked ways straight. Why would she stop now? The church will move, in fits and starts to be sure, but move forward nevertheless, toward the reconciliation of all things to our loving God.
And so it shall go.
9 thoughts on “Living and Loving Without Labels”
How very uplifting and inspiring! One of your best posts.
Thank you for this post. I’m glad you’ve found a place to belong; community is oxygen, we suffocate without it.
You’re often in my thoughts and prayers.
On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, Paula Stone Williams wrote:
> Paula S Williams posted: “Living and Loving Without Labels Let me tell you > about my church. Highlands Church in Denver turned seven years old this > month. If my church were a child, it would be starting second grade, > enjoying the last year before the god awful standardized testing” >
You make me teary
Paula, thank you for your optimism about the church (and November!). With pioneering, courageous church leaders like you and the pastors at Highlands, I feel hopeful, too.
Paula, you are special but let’s be honest; there just is no such thing as a one hour lunch at the Bacon Social House. Sorry, just drooled.
Paula, you just get better. Blessings to you dear friend. Don’t forget me the next time you are in Cinci. I always enjoy hearing of your work and seeing the growth of Paula in spite of loss of church, family, and friends. You do have some former friends who love you. How exciting Highlands sounds! Isn’t it marvelous how God works in spite of obstacles?
I heard you speak and spoke to you at King of Glory in Loveland. I’m so glad I signed up to get your thoughts. Your words are like a breath of fresh air. I can’t explain how hopeful they make me feel about change in the church, any church, hopefully (some day) every church.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Stephanie.
Much of what you shared in this post resonates with me. I went to Bible college and became a youth minister and then when I came out of the closet as a gay man, I left the church. My gap was a little longer than yours, over twenty years. Honestly, I thought I was done with church, but in the last year, I have returned. It is a church that is not part of my religious tradition, but like you, the church of my religious tradition rejected me long ago. Thank you for sharing your story.