Journey Story

Walking With God: Meeting My Hipster Pastor On The Streets Of Brooklyn

by Denny Barnes

I went for a long walk recently. I woke up early, and I was all ready to be idle in front of the computer for hours when I heard a voice say, “Get out, it’s beautiful.”

This winter was brutal, and I could’ve paid my rent for a few months if I had a dollar for every time I said, “When summer comes, I’m taking advantage.” The voice I heard reminded me of my prior declarations, and by magic, I was out in the beautiful world taking in the most amazing sun I’d seen in months.

I hit the road in my most comfortable shoes.

I headed down the Bronx’s Grand Concourse wondering if I was going to make this a trek or a stroll. It was early, and there was this enticing breeze. “Wouldn’t it be funny if I walked to Brooklyn?” I thought to myself.

I made the joke that I could walk to Smorgasburg—a Saturday food carnival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—because I’d have to with all the calories I would consume. It was funny at the time, but on this particular day, I was really feeling the world. I could do anything. I typed my destination into my iPhone, and found that this walk would take a little over three hours—so I began my trek towards Smorgasburg.

I called my parents to tell them how adventurous I was, and to kill some of the alone time that walking brings. My dad is a public safety officer at an HBCU—historically Black college and university—and we talked about the recent Ministers’ Conference he worked. We talked about the different personalities, and the different schools of Christian thought, and where he thought Christianity was going. We talked about grace and love, and Jesus, the whole bit.

This was always my dream—to talk to my dad about Christ without any condemnation about my sexuality.

High on the joy that conversation brought me, I continued into Queens. I thought about how God had really helped me conquer my fear of rejection. He helped me conquer my shame about my sexuality and how it interfered with my ability to grow in my faith.

My only hope was that my parents would not turn their backs on me, and they haven’t. I have them to FaceTime, to borrow money from, to talk to, to remember, and to love. I have their love. My parents love me—it sounds so simple, but it is vital to my identity. And it is my identity that I know is my gift from God.

I got to Smorgasburg sweaty, and maybe a little smelly. I was overwhelmed by the crowd. I get nervous with crowds, but I had to remind myself that I had walked 10 miles for this and that I deserve to enjoy things. I took a lap around the place but was all too overwhelmed to do anything but try a donut. I spent ten minutes in that crazy-ville and ran out. I wanted to run to the nearest train and escape, but God was with me—He settled on my soul and said “chill.”

I went the exact opposite direction to prove I would not run away, that I would just continue walking, that although I had panicked, it was just minor and there was still some day ahead.

And that’s when I saw my pastor.

I go to Hillsong Church NYC where Carl Lentz serves as pastor. Recently, he made an appearance on CNN for a segment titled, “Inside Manhattan’s most hipster-y megachurch.” I watched it at work, and was moved by how powerful it was—the segment got to the point about what we believe at Hillsong, and it was the first segment about my church that wasn’t cynical.

Pastor Carl has repeated over again, that it’s not about him, it’s not about me, or anyone for that matter—it’s about God. As he says, it’s “always only Jesus”—something my friends and I have now adopted into our vernacular. Whether Pastor Carl is at Hillsong or not, I know the Holy Spirit is always there. My friends and loved ones are there. And all of them strengthen me.

My pastor loves basketball. As I was walking away from Smorgasburg, just ahead of me was some basketball guy who awfully resembled my pastor as he turned the corner. My heart raced. I was speeding up to see if it was indeed him. As he was about to turn another corner and disappear, I called out, “Pastor Carl?” He stopped and turned to me. What transpired was a nervous starstruck idiot (me) meets gracious and busy person (Pastor Carl) scenario. Our interaction was brief and seemed to end as soon as it began.

I hadn’t told him what I wanted to say, so I’ll say it here.

Pastor, great to see you! Thank you for saying, “we have a lot of gay men and women in our church, and I pray we always do” on CNN the other day. Thanks for that. I think you should just go ahead and say that homosexuality is not a qualifier for Hell and that homosexuals are valued members of God’s kingdom. I want LGBTQ peoples to be accepted by mainstream Christianity. I want freedom—both spiritual and moral—and safety that comes with a Christ-centered life to be afforded to LGBTQ people. Mostly, I really want a Christian husband. I don’t want a guy who hates himself, or one who is so afraid his parents will hate him that he never talks to them. I don’t want a guy who doesn’t believe and thinks I’m a fool for believing. I want to see a Christianity that is inclusive because it has heard our request and sees no harm in being welcoming.

I wish I said that to him.

People ask me why I go to Hillsong if it does not openly affirm homosexuality.

I tell them, you gotta be there. You just have to see for yourself.

There is something so powerful about what is going on at my church and I know it’s only a matter of time. I believe this as much as I know it is the voice of God who guides me on my path through life.

Photo via flickr user Chris Goldberg

Comments (1)


God bless you on your journey
God bless you on your journey. I hope that the open affirmation of LGBTQ happens for your church soon.

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