On Sunday, June 12, we gathered to celebrate the ministy of Bethany Presbyterian Church during their last worship service. Former members and current members shared how their lives were changed through the years because of finding this small group of faithful people.
Over and over again, a deep sense of gratitude was expressed for Bethany's ministry to broken people, to people in the midst of struggle and pain, to people full of anger and confusion. Over and over again, Bethany was described as a deep blessing, a place where people wanted to be real and honest with each other, a place of transformation and real compassion, wrestling with the tension of living in faith in the world.
Though Bethany has been struggling for a while, it was clear that the commitment to provide a place for people to be honest about their brokenness and find a community of healing never faded. Even those who just joined the congregation spoke of the gift of grace they experienced through the loving-kindness of this small family.
What if we all could be a little more like that, honest about our own personal brokenness and willing to approach one another in love and grace and compassion? What if our worshiping communities were able to be places of deep acceptance and mutuality, where we didn't need to hide our struggles but instead could share and support one another in them? What if we produced joyful disciples because of the gift of such communities, who then invited others who were broken, hurting, angry, and confused into life-giving relationships with Christ and with each other?
What if Omar had found such a community? As we learn more about his life, we hear that he was angry and conflicted, visiting the nightclub where he would later unleash a dreadful, killing rage, exploring the possibility of a same-gender relationship while lashing out after seeing two men kissing in public. What if he had been able to find a place to be honest about his struggle, honest about his pain and fear, honest about his anger, where he could have experienced compassion and healing?
In many ways, the Pulse Nightclub operated as such a place for people who have been rejected by their churches and sometimes their families. It was a place of sanctuary and welcome, a place to be real and be celebrated, a place to gather with others struggling with the tension of living faithfully as LGBTQ people in a world that still responds too often with hate. Article after article has lifted up this reality, as expressed by Paul Raushenbush, a clergyman and popular gay writer:
Nightclubs have always been sacred spaces for queer people, places to gather and glitter away from the judging glares of society, where we could love and be loved for who we are and how we want to be. (The Boston Globe, June 14, 2016, "Tens of thousands rally in solidarity," by David Crary of the Associated Press)
Even as an evangelical congregation, Bethany sought to allow space for the honesty of this struggle as well. Before their last worship service began, we paused in prayer for the terrible tragedy in Orlando, without judgement, without reservation, simply grieving the violence and bloodshed, the death and destruction, without the need to minimize or demonize.
As the members of Bethany disburse to other congregations, I pray that they will take with them this wisdom and gift. I pray the churches they now invest themselves in will also learn how to be honest and real, sharing brokenness and building each other up. I also pray for the rest of the churches in the Presbytery of Boston and across our denomination. Many of our congregations have learned how to be communities of mutual care and loving-kindness, but it's not enough to be that only for ourselves. We need to learn how to be sanctuaries for all people, places of compassion and welcome and love.