For so many years of my life, Sunday was a work day. Even if I wasn’t on a church staff, I usually had commitments in the church that obligated me be in a certain place at a certain time. At the very least, I was committed to giving my kids some consistency in their worship, teaching and social experience of church.
In the last year circumstances have changed. I’m a attending a church that meets on Saturday nights. My kids are only with me every other weekend. I have a new found Sunday morning freedom and what do I really enjoy doing? Going to church.
What I enjoy about it is that I don’t just go to “a” church, I get to go to all sorts of different churches. I get to remember what it’s like to sing out of a hymnal (if you were born after 1995, you may need to google that one!). I get to experience all kinds of liturgy and hear different styles of teaching. Most of all I get to meet people from all walks of life, all stages of life and all sorts of perspectives.
A few weeks ago I went to a Sunday morning service at progressive Baptist Church with a beautiful organ, a great choir and a large, impressive sanctuary. That afternoon I drove across town to meet with small church plant in the back room of a roadhouse bar and grill. They were both services where I believe God was honored, worshiped and His word was unapologetically delivered.
Naturally, one of the things I’ve been curious about as I visit churches is how they (the leadership and the congregants) will respond to me as a transgender woman. I’m aware of the glances; the double takes. The person who starts to walk over and then stops, presumably not exactly sure what to say. The person who walks over and just starts talking, even though they still aren’t sure what to say. And of course there are those who genuinely greet me with no apparent awareness or concern about our differences; just embracing me as a fellow heir to the Kingdom of God. I don’t take any of it personally. I’m fully aware that I am “out of context” for them; they are having to process something they may have never encounter in person before.
Part of my motivation for this trek through Christendom had been to observe and contemplate how I might best help churches respond to the LGBT community. With major cultural shifts underway, many churches are calling into question long standing doctrines regarding same sex relationships and non-traditional gender roles and identities. Pastors and congregations seeking to be more affirming often find themselves scratching their heads as they look at a subculture that is essentially a mystery to them.
I understand the feeling – it wasn’t long ago that it was a mystery to me as well. I honestly can’t really claim at this point that I yet fully understand the ins and outs of it. I certainly don’t feel qualified to “speak on behalf” of the transgender community, or the Christian community any anymore for that matter. My hope is that having a strong identity with both I can open some doors to deeper, more meaningful conversations on both sides of the church steps.
Something that I have become recently aware of is that I need to change my perspective in what I am observing. Rather than watch how they respond to me as a transgender person, I need to see how they respond to me in spite of being transgender. Do they see me as a whole, deep person in need of God’s grace and desiring to experience the love that God’s people are supposed to be famous for? If all they see when I walk in the door is my gender identity, they will likely miss my battle with depression and anxiety, my hurt over a marriage recently ended, my ongoing struggle with past traumas, etc.Not that I would wear those things on my sleeve, but if we are so focused on what what we perceive, we may unintentionally blind ourselves to what the Spirit may have us see. If all we see in me is something to question and possibly judge, they run the risk of not seeing a person to love. (Note: This applies to everyone who walks in the room, regardless of gender, orientation or ethnicity; if they look homeless or are dressed to the 9s; if its their first time or they are a long serving part of that particular body!)
Christ saw the people. He addressed the sin that needed to be addressed, he left alone the things that could be left alone and he got about his business of mending hearts and healing minds. I long for the day when we can truly say the church as a whole is characterized the same way.