I wasn’t going to call him back.
I got the message off our church’s answering machine: “I want to ask you some questions,” the caller said, and he left his name and number.
But I wasn’t going to call him back.
Frankly, I was afraid. I was afraid the caller would be belligerent, combative, wanting to challenge my church’s open and affirming stance. I was afraid the caller would spew hateful words at me and berate me with cherry-picked Bible verses and assure me that I and my congregation were headed straight to hell.
I erased the message but wrote down the caller’s information—perhaps I would get a bit of bravery later. And in fact, I did. During our usual Wednesday evening discussion, I told my congregation about the message and my reluctance to reply.
“No, call him,” they said. “Call him now while we’re all here. Let’s see what he wants.”
Feeling buoyed by their support, I dialed the number, still inwardly wishing the caller wouldn’t pick up.
But on the fourth ring, he did. I identified myself as the pastor of Chalice Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I braced myself. And he said what I thought he’d say—part of it, at least.
“Do you believe in same-sex marriage?” he asked.
I took a deep breath. In moments like these, nothing works but honesty.
“Yes, I do,” I said. My people nodded encouragement.
“Have you done any same-sex marriages?”
“Yes, I have.”
The two men in the congregation whom I had married just the year before gave me thumbs ups.
“I looked you up online,” he said. “So your church welcomes same-sex couples?”
Reassured that I was not going to be verbally assaulted, I spoke firmly. “Yes, we do. Chalice Christian Church is opening and affirming, and we welcome everyone to our fellowship. And all means all.”
“I’ve found my church,” the caller said.
Those four little words made my heart stop and then leap for joy. Chalice was formed in 2012, and from the start we determined we would be open and affirming.
It was a bold step for a small, new church in a very conservative part of Southeastern Kentucky.
We knew there was a sizeable LGBT population in the vicinity, but they were so intimidated by the inhospitable atmosphere that they remained as low key and hidden as possible. And many of them despaired of ever finding a church where they could serve and worship without worrying about being harassed or attacked.
When we started Chalice, we knew we were putting ourselves on the firing line, opening ourselves to hostility and even retaliation. But we also believed we heard Jesus very clearly: “Love one another even as I have loved you.”
To hear Edward say he had found his church let us know our struggles are not in vain; that we are, as I often assure my congregation, in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. One of our members put it very well when we were at a low point, afraid we might have to close: “We have to be here for all those people who need us when they need us.”
We have to be here for people like Edward.
He promised to visit us the next Sunday. We couldn’t wait.