I grew up in Christianity. My grandfather was a pastor, we went to Christian school for many years, my dad worked at the church... it was my world. I always knew that there was something different about me but I'll never forget when I realized what it was. My parents had recorded an episode of the 700 club and one of the news stories they did was on the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. As they showed images from the parade, I knew that I was like them and all the while I am hearing these "news casters" say the most horrible things about gay people. It made me feel so dirty and sinful. I tried so hard to not be gay after that point and eventually just left the church because I didn't think they would accept me.
I'll never forget my first time at EastLake. It was before the church came out as inclusive and I went to the 101 class for one purpose only. I wanted to ask Ryan about whether or not gay people were welcome. Of course he was so incredibly kind and said I was welcome and that I would be surprised to find that a lot of gay people attended church there. I started serving with the kids right away, but I was always so scared about anyone finding out I was gay. Eventually, I just stopped coming back because welcoming and validating my right to be there as a Christian are two different things and I didn't just want to be tolerated.
Then the big announcement came out and I went to the service where Ryan talked about his personal journey and the journey as a staff to come to this place of inclusion and I cried the whole service. I couldn't believe it. It wasn't just that I was included, it was that this huge church was saying that they believed the interpretation of the scripture in this area is wrong. I wish I could say that I started coming back right away but I was so hurt by the years and years of judgement and "we love you but..." I actually started coming back one week prior to the "a year later" service. I remember Ryan sharing about how many people had left the church and about staff who had lost friendships over their support of inclusion. I very specifically remember Ryan saying that he had spent a bunch of time laying on the floor of his office in tears because of all the hate being slung at him for this.
It would have been so easy for EastLake to go back on their announcement of inclusion but they didn't. They stuck by the LGBTQ community through all of it. They stood by me so I stand by them. I believe in and serve at EastLake because EastLake believed in and served me. EastLake changed Christianity for me.
As I sat thinking about this and I typed this up, I began to cry because I've been forgetting how important it is for EastLake to exist. There are other gay people out there struggling and they need a place of worship where they are not just tolerated, they are celebrated. And it's not just about gay people. That's obviously the piece I relate to, but there are lots of people who have suffered because of the beliefs driven so deeply into them. They need a place to feel safe as they explore letting go of those old ideas and letting a new experience with God in.
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