When Pastor Randy asked me to write something about what Open Door means to me, I started thinking back to when I first arrived on the scene. A friend of mine and I were talking about church and spirituality one day and he started telling me why he believed it was important to have a strong spiritual foundation. He told me “you have to believe in something”. And he was right. I knew I had to have some kind of spirituality. Being brought up in the church, I knew about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all that that entailed. But I also struggled daily with who I really was. In the beginning I just knew I was different, that there was something “odd” about me. As I grew older it became more and more real to me just exactly what I was: a gay man. OH MY GOD!!! This scared the crap out of me!! I had worked so hard at being a good Christian. I had been brought up to believe that God hated homosexuality. He would never forgive me for this. Everything I had been taught was thrown into a tailspin. All of the “Thou shalt’s” and “Thou shalt not’s” were all being called into question.
So I went to my then pastor and confided in him the things I was feeling and the thoughts that were going thru my head. I had already begun experimenting with some things and felt that this “Man of God” could give me some direction. His response: I HAD to confess my “sins” to the church, that confession was good for the soul. Little did I know what would happen next. I was confident once this part was over, everything would be fine. I would be purged and things would get back to normal. So being the good, obedient steward, I did what I was told. I remember standing in front of the pulpit of that small country church and telling them about who I REALLY was. I saw that faces of the people I thought were my friends change from being kind and compassionate to hate and judgment in what seemed like a split second. I also remember my mother sitting in the audience and I could see the lights reflecting off her cheek as the tears ran down. It would be years before I would realize why she was crying. By the time I was finished, I knew I couldn’t stay there anymore. So when I had finished my ‘confession’, I walked straight to the doors of the church, got in my car, and never looked back. Now fast-forward 15 years of wandering around, trying to find myself, to the conversation with my friend. He told me there was a gay-friendly church in Sherwood. He told me about the website and that I should check it out. So I did. I checked out every page, every picture, and every story. It was when I was captivated by the story of how Randy and Gary met and how it took years for them to finally end up together that I was convinced I had to see this thru. So when the next Sunday came, I got up, got dressed, took a nerve pill to calm my nerves, then drank a pot of coffee to get the rush to get out the door, and out the door I went. When I finally found the church, I sat in my car for what seemed like an eternity, looking to see what kind of people would be coming to this kind of church, all the while praying for the courage to walk through the church doors. I didn’t know what to expect. I guess I was looking for Drag Queens and debutants to be here.
But what I found can be described by one word: ACCEPTANCE.
When I walked through the doors, there weren’t many people were here. But a little lady with short, curly salt and pepper hair, dressed to the nines, came up to me, gave me a hug and said, “I’m glad you’re here.” I had to take a breath. WOW…this woman didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, and just walked up to me like she had known me for years. Then this really tall man with glasses came to me, and again gave me a hug and a bulletin. That was the beginning of a new way of thinking for me. As I sat on the back row, closest to the exit as I could get, I listened to the singing, whose harmonies were spot on, giving me chills. And as the service went on I started looking around me while trying to not be obvious. What I saw was a melting pot of diversity: people of different shapes, sizes and races. I saw single people and couples, both gay and straight, old-ER and younger, smiling at each other and giving each other hugs of acceptance and having a good time, while the praise team was singing “Love Is Our Common Ground”. It was all a little too much to take in at one time. So when the service ended, I stood around for all of about 30 seconds then bolted for the door. I got in my car and just sat there for a minute.
I had never felt or seen anything like it.
And the only word that came to mind at the time was WOW. And as I drove home with a faucet of tears running down my face, the only thing I could say was THANK YOU GOD!! I had found a sanctuary and a place of safety. I was finally able to get my wits about me about the time I was pulling in my driveway. I knew at the moment I would be back. I guess I said all of this to answer the single question asked of me: What does Open Door Community Church mean to me?
I can sum it up into 3 phrases: I AM ACCEPTED. I AM LOVED. I BELONG.