The church I grew up in is considering becoming “welcoming and affirming”

By Kelsey Leigh Ervi

On November 15, I received a message from my father. He had forwarded me an email he received from the church I grew up in. The church that helped shaped my faith. The church I was baptized in. The church I committed to Christ in. The church I left in the spring of 2007.

The email that my father forwarded me was regarding the upcoming congregational discussion and vote on revising the church bylaws. Attached to the email was a document entitled “Welcoming and Affirming Statement Packet.” I knew immediately what that meant.

The church I grew up in has always been an open and inclusive place of worship. My parents neither of whom were of devout spirituality when I was a child, wanted to introduce my sister and I to God in a healthy and non-aggressive way. I think both of my parents saw the importance in allowing their children to discover their own beliefs and to navigate through faith in their own way and on their own schedule. This particular church provided that kind of environment and we all attended the church for many years. My journey through faith, however, was a rocky one. I stumbled on many questions and doubts, and in one area over and over again, an area that would go on to be the biggest journey of my life.

I have known I was gay since I was a young child, my earliest memories point to age 6. But it wasn’t until I was 12 that I fully understood that being gay was considered different. That there was a status quo I no longer met. It was also at 12 that I truly recognized what fear was. For a young gay person in a conservative Texas town in 2002, fear was undeniable. And my 12-year-old self struggled through bouts of depression and identity crises, which meant I would remain closeted well into my teens.

Growing up gay in church was difficult as there were many contradicting statements being thrown my way from person to person. Growing up gay in America was difficult too, but over the last few years, things have been getting a lot better. Most notably the historic Supreme Court ruling that declared once and for all that everyone deserves the right to marry the person they love. I was in my office at work when the ruling went public. The final paragraph of the opinion that Justice Kennedy issued is written on my bedroom wall and has been since June 26, 2015. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I see when I go to bed each night. It feels like a blessing.

In regards to the upcoming discussion and vote, I read through the “Welcoming and Affirming Statement Packet” in its entirety and was very moved by it. As I said, I’ve always known the church I grew up in to be  accepting, but to see the words written and to read the commitment this church wants to make to me and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters is something to be celebrated.

I know there are some who are concerned with the implications of disconnecting from the Baptist General Convention of Texas or the Waco Regional Baptist Association and, perhaps more seriously, to those worried about the response from Baylor, I understand their concerns, but I also ask them to reflect on Colossians 3: 12-16.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Striving for what is right is the good of the Earth and sometimes we have to remind others of that. I hope this church and other churches will adopt “welcoming and affirming statements” because it is what is right and good.

Even when those inside a church are accepting and affirming it is still important to have an explicit statement. Many members of the LGBTQ community assume that they would not be welcomed in church and many of them have been rejected from their friends and families. I have felt this at other churches, and people I once considered friends disavowed me because of this one trait that speaks to the very core of who I am. A trait that speaks to the very core of what I love about myself.

In light of recent events, I find myself mourning the potential loss of the blessing I have written on my wall and other liberties that still feel new. I, like many of my LGBTQ friends, are afraid of what’s to come and we will be seeking safe spaces and places with open doors and open arms. Our churches can be one of those places. The people of the church can make it so.

I will admit to you that I do not identify as a Christian. My decision to leave the church comes with many clauses, but my journey through faith did lead me to the ultimate belief that there is something bigger than myself and I will not attempt to know all the answers but I will do everything I can to ensure I live from a place of acceptance and respect. Two qualities of many that I find unwavering in my God. Your God and my God are alike in this, I think. My God is one of love, one of compassion. My God is open and inviting. My God is a really good listener. And my God believes we are imperfect beings whose curiosity and benevolence are two of our greatest strengths. I think your God is all of these things too.


kelsey-leigh-erviKelsey Leigh Ervi is a Dallas-based multidisciplinary theatre artist. As a director, actor and playwright, Kelsey’s work has been highly regarded by various publications including The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, TheaterJones, and D Magazine. Kelsey’s directing work is geared towards ensemble-driven texts, bare-bones storytelling, object-puppetry, and work of the queer voice. When she’s not working in theatre, Kelsey can be heard talking about it. In November of 2015, she joined forces with two other Dallas artists and launched the Little Big Scene Podcast, a monthly podcast which serves to promote the past, present and future of the Dallas-Fort Worth theatre community. She currently serves as Associate Artistic Director for WaterTower Theatre in Addison, TX.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

Group W Bench: A Movement to Get Rid of Litter in Waco

By Bruce Huff

“Fined $50 For Littering!” This is the catalyst for the song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre,” written, recorded and experienced by Arlo Guthrie in 1967 during the VietNam War, and played as a cult song on Thanksgiving Day, every year since without fail.

I’m not sure the song’s message means more to me as someone who enlisted in the military because of the threat of prosecution, or because the hero of the story got a littering fine of $50. I got over the enlistment pretty fast, but the littering… not so much!  Mind you, I am not the tidiest person around, but I HATE LITTER! I’ll go out of my way if I see an accumulation of trash.  We, have made this trash. We purchased every piece of McRib wrapper, every napkin, every sack to bag your lunch, the cardboard box that blew off the top of our trash truck, the cigarette butts thrown in the curb and stay.  Somehow, all this trash we see is created. Somehow, all this trash never gets picked up. Somehow, a Christmas tree sits dead all year on the island at Valley Mills and Waco Dr. in front of the U-Haul store, since, yes, Christmas.

Multiple Sclerosis forced me to retire early as my balance and fatigue were playing havoc on my day-to-day activities. That gave me time to help my city: Waco, Texas.  I was born here 64 years ago. Waco was trashy then….sadly, Waco is trashy now. Just look out of your window, Trash at the next traffic light. Trash right across mansions on Ridgewood Drive. Trash in our river. Trash in our river. Trash in our river….Every day I look around downtown, the highways, alleyways and neighborhoods where I saw trash, litter, open dumpsters…it’s so bad that when it rains, the Brazos River dumps literally tons of waste. Who cleans all this mess?  For the past two years, I have been ambling along, with my cane or mobility scooter, in a vacant lot, along the river, or in neighborhoods picking up your trash, our trash.

Finally, I realized it was just senseless to do this on my own, so I went to City Council with my “Wild About Waco” tee shirt and proclaimed, “I am Wild About Waco but not wild about our trash!” Like magic, they tripled the budget for downtown cleanup! So this is how the wheels of government work! A friend asked if she could join me, so we brainstormed one day about how we could organize a group of Senior Citizens to show our community- to make a social statement.  Then, Alice’s Restaurant came to mind and we decided to call ourselves the “Group W Bench.”

In the song, Arlo is sent for evaluation as he is a malcontent, arrested for littering. The induction center put him on the “Group W Bench” with all the other malcontents for creating a nuisance, and he was asked, “Son, are you moral enough to join the Army after committing your special crime” of littering… Littering?

Later on in the song Arlo belts out, “Let’s start a movement! Sing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant, then another…before too long the whole country will feel like I did way back then.”  We are starting an anti-litter movement in Waco, Texas! Thanksgiving Day is the 49th Anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant Massacre. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving (November 26) The Group W Bench will assemble at Indian Springs Park Suspension Bridge to clean up part of our city, and events are planned to continue the vision. The City of Waco Director for Solid Waste feels public help is needed as the city doesn’t have the resources. Do we wait for funding, or do we set an example now? The movement has started in Waco! It’s time to change our attitudes about trash across the USA. What happened to “Give A Hoot, Don’t Pollute”? What happened to picking up trash, pennies, soda bottles and straightening a neighbor’s fence? LET’S START A MOVEMENT!

Please join us on the Group W Bench!  We are a group of senior citizens, church groups, Baylor fraternities, disabled and misfits who will gather on Saturday, November 26 from 12-3 Waco Suspension Bridge to clean our streets, one at a time! And remember, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”


bruce-huffBruce Huff has Multiple Sclerosis, is semi-retired and now an activist in Waco, Texas

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

 

A Space for Grace: Shepherding a City

By Leslie King

In the early 1990s I lived on the South side of Chicago.  Safety was an issue, so I did what people sometimes do: I went in search of a dog.  At the Chicago animal shelter I met Lucky.  She was a young Shepherd/Collie mutt.  There was something about her…the commanding ears, the dark serious eyes.  I thought, “She will keep me safe.”  We became regular features at the seminary courtyard that doubled as a dog park several times a day.

When new dogs came to the dog park, Lucky greeted them from head to tail and ran around them as if blessing their presence.  She would do a victory lap around the perimeter for each dog who entered.  She did this for three years; each and every dog received her shepherding attention.  Her shepherding instinct is a beautiful memory for me.  She took in whoever arrived.  There was some crazy diversity at the dog park.  Lucky shepherded the diversity as it arrived.

First Presbyterian Church, like any downtown congregation, has had to have a similar discipline.  Diversity has risen up around our congregation over its better than 150 years.  Not too many years ago, we had a decision to make in the midst of urban blight and sprawl.  The question was, would we continue our ministry in this location or would we find greener pastures?

Even though there were more vacant buildings than occupied, and there was no promise of an uptick in its economy on the horizon, we chose to stick with downtown Waco. First Presbyterian stayed committed to the complex and diverse urban environment.

Years later, things are booming.  It’s so very exciting to see the development and expansion.   We have stayed mindful of the growing pains as development increases values and taxes.  We have held in prayer those who live in poverty, our neighbors at Talitha Koum and Mission Waco, who have settled into an urban core only to experience displacement as it develops.  As Waco took off, we knew that sooner or later the issue of how to shepherd in this city would come knocking on our door.  And it has…literally…

A real estate developer dropped by the church office one Monday morning asking to speak with me.  We were not very far into our conversation when I realized that he was not coming to tell me about changes in the neighborhood.  Rather he was coming to invite me/us to help make some changes happen.   He looked at me with bright and twinkling eyes and said, “For a mere $200,000, we can simply make Oak Lodge go away!”

Oak Lodge is the Motor Inn across the street from the church. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some call it a “flophouse.”   It is an example of the diversity that has arrived as the city has risen up around us.  In our attempts to get to know and understand the people at Oak Lodge, we have appreciated the consultation of Jimmy Dorrell, who has cautioned us as middle class Americans.  He has cautioned us about our intent to change people or transform them.  He has said to me on more than one occasion, “Don’t try to fix all their problems; there are agencies who are working on that.  Just begin learning their names.  Look them in the eye and recognize their humanity so that they can recognize yours.”   In other words, attend with a shepherding instinct that honors and gathers those who arrive to your shared space.    He has been a good guide and friend to us because there are threats to the shepherding instinct.

A first threat has to do with our self-understanding.   It is very tempting as church folks to understand that we are the flock to be cared for and guided.   And that might be true inside the sanctuary walls, but beyond those walls we need to recognize that our true role is as ambassadors of the Shepherd.

A second threat is in regard to how shepherds work.  It’s why Lucky is a helpful image to me of shepherding.  You see, I am so often tempted to imagine that a shepherd shops for and selects the sheep. That there are some sheep that are suited to a flock and others that are not.  It is humbling to remember that God as Shepherd does not preselect but welcomes and honors all.

So, Oak Lodge becomes a part of who we shepherd, and in so doing we learn from them.   We learn about the complex of problems that mire people into difficult, even intractable, situations.  Carefully and prayerfully, we take what we know from the challenges at Oak Lodge and we move into places where there is leverage and power for change, for example our partnership with Alta Vista Elementary.

Thanks to what we have learned from our friends at Oak Lodge, we arrive at Alta Vista taking seriously the threat that there are pipelines to prison, and holding onto our belief that the school is situated as a gateway for health, self-esteem, well-being and a promising future.  Having learned from the neighbor whom we have sought to shepherd and by whom we have been shepherded, we arrive to Alta Vista with the shepherding instinct intact.  We are ready to welcome, guide, instruct, encourage and receive inspiration from the children.   We bind up their hope and ours.  We bind up their confidence and ours.  We bind up their will and ours.   At the same time, we loosen the bondage of their fear and ours.  We loosen the bonds of uncertainty and despair and in so doing we feel confidence and hope in the smallest achievements.

Around our little lot of land at First Presbyterian Church we have been privileged by neighbors who are postured to teach us if we are willing to learn.  If we are willing to say “come to the party and tell us what you know, good bad and ugly,” if we stand alert and ready, then the church continues to be built in the only way it has ever been built, by building up others because we love God and believe in Christ.


leslie-kingThis week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Rev. Dr. Leslie Ann King of First Presbyterian Church, Waco.  Would you like to write for the blog?  If so, please email Ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org. We would love to hear your thoughts on making Waco a great place to live for every person of every level of income.