On Wings of Eagles
It is the day before July 4. I am sitting on the back patio of our beautiful Colorado home where I have been watching a golden eagle soar high above the ridge behind the house. I marvel at her beauty and grace as she rides the currents, eyes fixed on the ground below. This is the first season I have seen her on the ridge, bringing her serenity into my busy life.
Since the recent articles in the New York Times and Denver Post, I could use the serenity. It’s been quite a whirlwind. Of all the emails and messages I have received, I am bothered most by the accusations I have abandoned my faith. The truth is my faith is stronger than ever, riding the currents of hope, love and compassion. I have not left my faith, but I have declared my independence from evangelicalism. When a certain brand of Christianity reviles you for being who you are, you are inclined to examine its doctrines and practices. I had begun that process before my transition. It accelerated after I was expelled from within its ranks.
I bristle when people say I am no longer a Christian, for my belief in the message of Jesus is unrelenting. Not only do I believe in Jesus; I believe in the church. In fact, I believe in the church so much I am going back into local church ministry.
I made my way to Highlands Church in the summer of 2015. That first Sunday I knew I was home. For the next two years I began to unlearn what an evangelical male pastor knows. I began to understand what it means to be a woman in ministry. To put it mildly, the difference is massive. When your entire career is spent with no women in leadership (how many places is that true nowadays?) you don’t exactly learn to see with a feminine eye, or become aware of the extent of your misogyny. It’s not that you’re a bad person. It’s just that you don’t know what you don’t know. I had a lot to unlearn. Still do.
About a year ago I began leading the Highlands church planting team, doing what I had done for decades. When it was time to hire pastors for a new church Highlands was planting in Boulder County, Mark Tidd, our founding pastor, said, “Paula, it’s not too late to put your name in the hat.” I cried for a while. In fact, I believe Mark might have gone home, had dinner and returned before I stopped crying. For the third time in my life, I knew I had been called.
So, I am joining my two good friends, Jen Jepsen and Aaron Bailey, as pastors of a new church. Aaron, a successful entrepreneur and member at Highlands, sold his company and began looking for the next big thing. Little did he know God would tell him the next big thing was planting a church! Jen Jepsen, a former member of the megachurch where I once preached, found me after I transitioned and said, “I think I am supposed to plant an open and affirming church in Boulder County.” Even though I discouraged her because of the massive amount of work involved, I knew she was called, and I knew God had sent her to inform me that I too had been called.
Now here we are, the three of us, getting ready to launch a new church. (More staff will be hired in the future.) We’re already holding dinners, starting study groups and joining social justice teams as we look for a place to meet on Sundays. Weekly services will begin next spring. The last time I planted a church was in 1984 in Brooklyn, New York. I was twelve. (Yeah, I’m goin’ with that, twelve.) And here I am again, feeling the call of God so firmly I can hardly contain myself.
Life takes twists and turns and doubles back on itself often enough. It is the way of the Spirit. In my previous life I turned down offers to be the senior pastor of more than one megachurch. Now here I stand, ready to join Jen and Aaron and the people at Highlands in starting the opposite of a megachurch, a new church. Only God knows what is in store.
If you live in or near Boulder County, Colorado, and you are looking for a church that is a truly welcoming place for all, get ready, it is coming. On wings of eagles, it is coming.