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.