an excerpt from Nadia Bolz-Weber's Pastrix
Thanks, ELCA! was an inside joke at our church. House for All Sinners and Saints had quickly become well known in the Lutheran world, both by those who loved us and those who hated us. Those who loved us were inspired by our liturgical creativity and freedom, and those who hated us were offended by my gender (thus the term "pastrix") and by our love of the gays. And both groups liked to blog about it all. I had recently shared with my parishioners one such blog post in which someone had written: "I can't believe the ELCA would waste money on this 'church.' Their openness to homosexuality shows that House for All Sinners and Saints has obviously thrown the Bible out the window."
"We should totally stage a photo of HFASS with money raining down and a big sign that says 'Thanks, ELCA!' " I had said in response to the blog post.
Stuart, who was not named the House for All Sinners and Saints' Minister of Fabulousness for nothing, went a gay step further. "No," he insisted. "Everyone should be dancing and holding flutes of champagne while Pastor Nadia throws a Bible out the window and money rains down from the ceiling as a buff male dancer in a gold lamé Speedo holds a sign that says, 'Thanks, ELCA!'" And another inside joke was born.
Many of the folks at House for All had been hurt by the church in one way or another. Several, like Stuart himself, had been victims of so-called ex-gay reparative therapy at the hands of Christians, some had been told they were not up to snuff in the eyes of God, and, needless to say, the vast majority of the folks at House for All were not regularly attending a church when they joined us. In other words, they were just like me in the spring of 1996 when I first walked into St. Paul's in Oakland.
It was important to me that the House for All Sinners & Saints be a place where no one had to check at the door their personalities or the parts of our stories that seemed "unchristian." I wanted a place where something other than how we responded to rules was at the center of our life together. Yet, in the end, despite how much I love HFASS, I am still not an idealist, not when it comes to our human projects. Every human community will disappoint us, regardless of how well-intentioned or inclusive. But I am totally idealistic about God's redeeming work in my life and in the world.
As a matter of fact, at our quarterly "Welcome to HFASS" events, we ask the question, What drew you to HFASS? They love the singing, people often say, and the community, and the lack of praise bands, and the fact that they feel like they can comfortably be themselves. They love that we laugh a lot and have drag queens and that it's a place where difficult truths can be spoken and everyone is welcome, and where we pray for each other.
I am always the last to speak at these events. I tell them that I love hearing all of that and that I, too, love being in a spiritual community where I don't have to add to or take away from my own story to be accepted. But I have learned something by belonging to two polar-opposite communities— Albion Babylon and the Church of Christ—and I wanted them to hear me: This community will disappoint them. It's a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I'll say something stupid and hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they'll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don't meet their expectations, they won't get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community's failure, and that's just too beautiful and too real to miss.
Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints. We will disappoint you.
Reprinted by permission of Jericho Books. All rights reserved.