It would be unfair to label Saint Sebastian’s Independant Catholic Church a “gay church”. But it’d be unfair not to mention that, perhaps, they are very into the gay happenings in Baltimore and minister to the gay community. While I am sure that Pastor Flaherty would be disheartened to think that Saint Sebastians is only a church for the queer community, the community at large would probably reference it as “The gay church”. I find this sort of thing unfortunate.
I wound up here by means of an Emergent Village book group that meets in Baltimore. I met Assisting Priest Joan Stiles, a bleached blonde short-haired middle aged woman, while discussing Claiborne’s book Jesus for President. The group discussed much and varied in theological belief tremendously. Disagreement’s abounded. Surprisingly, no one argued. I learned about Joan, her Catholic past, her current priesthood and thought, surely, if there was anyone I would disagree with it was female priest at a pro-gay church. But Joan, like much of the world, was full of surprises. I found myself captivated with her outlook on our faith, her impression of God, her passion for Biblical authority.
A few months later the Reverend Flaherty, the Priest at Joan’s church, even came to the emergent church meetup group. A tall man, who dwarfs me, with long fingers, he strikes me as the sort of person who is easy to get along with. Perhaps that same young idealism that runs in all young people’s blood still runs in his. I found him quiet, questioning, firm in his convictions yet willing to hear others out. It’s hard to not like him.
I kept promising Joan I would come to Saint Sebastian’s but one thing or another always came up. Finally I told myself I was going. My wife watched the kids and I headed out the door.
About 20 people were sitting inside First United Church, where Saint Sebastian’s holds service. About half, from my count were openly gay. There was one family with two children, who, through paying attention, I learned had attended for at least two years. No other kids could I see. There was no piano or organ either, instead a middle-aged man in vestaments played the guitar while we sang hymns.
David Flaherty’s sermon was short compared to my mennonite sermons. Maybe about ten minutes long. He announced that one gay couple in the church was choosing to get “married” though it is illegal in Maryland. At the end of the month the Reverend will perform a ceremony and unite the two women. Everyone clapped. David made no less than two Martha Stewart jokes, one joke about decorating, and he makes all the church’s vestaments. I thought this rocked.
I had some tears in my eyes that were hard to wash out. I was thinking of how difficult it must be to be gay and Christian. Or, hell, anything and Christian. We have made a point to create churches for every sub-culture in the country. Gay Churches. Churches for young adults. Churches for old white people. Churches for blacks. Churches for hispanics. The list is endless. One thing is for sure, while Jesus was good at seperating the sheep from the goats, Christians are really good at further dividing up the sheep. We’re like Babe the pig making sure we are all in the correct pens.
Holy fuck, I get aneurism just thinking about it. Is all of this really necessary? I wish we could get along better. I wish people in these sub-cultures felt welcome. I wish we felt comfortable in their churches. What the hell are we gonna do?
I hear all the time, from all types of people: “We need to get this subculture involved in our church.” But I never hear “I’m going to go over there”. We go where we are comfortable. I’m not sure this is such a good thing.
From what I saw I like what was going on Saint Sebastians. I wish they didn’t express the “progressive” thing so much just like I wish other churches didn’t express the “conservative” thing so much. I guess it’s all blowback.
A couple last thoughts:
How does the Mennonite Church become more welcoming?
Can we do it without sacrificing Biblical Truth?
Can we do it while maintaining our heritage?
If we become more welcoming will anyone want to come?
This last one I wrestle with. Every week North Baltimore’s (my church) doors are open to everyone. Yet, in my 18 months there, I’ve seen a handful of black people walk through the doors. Whites have outnumbered them 30 to 1. Nothing stopping blacks. Then again, nothing stopping my white self from walking into the First Gospel Tabernacle of Holy Jubilation either. But I don’t.
I don’t feel pressed to acquire a minority population of any kind like trading cards for my church. Yet, I feel saddened by the lack of unity amongst Christians as a whole.
Saint Sebastian’s is a place where homosexuals, and others, might be seperate from us now, but later, when it counts, they won’t be.
Is that good enough?