Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Faith Odyssey--Oh the Places You Will Go!

My religious trajectory began in the Roman Catholic Church and landed me in many of the Christian religious movements of the past 30 years.

At age 17 I left Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Lake Huntington, NY with its tinny sounding organ and hymns sung in impossible keys through the noses of old ladies, and I began to attend Gospel Tabernacle, a fundamentalist Bible Church in Honesdale, PA. This church encouraged their youth to attend Word of Life Bible Institute and Bob Jones University (Also known as BJU). After I graduated from high school, I opted for what my pastor considered a liberal institution, Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance school. While there I attended an independent Evangelical church in nearby New Jersey. They talked about grace and provided gourmet coffee in the Fellowship Hall after service.

Following a stint with the Evangelical mission HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, I moved to New York City where with hands raised and feet stomping I jumped into Glory Tabernacle, a non-denominational Charismatic church that put the happy into the clappy. We railed against principalities and powers, and in ancient pagan fashion regularly drove out evil entities ensconced in every corner of the city. (And to the god of the North, I bind you and in the mighty name of Jesus I command you to depart with your evil minions!)

Right before this Holy Ghost-filled church fell apart because of a sexual scandal between the young charming pastor and his children’s nanny (a result of The Enemy attacking The Man of God, who apparently failed to build a strong enough hedge of protection around himself or else inadvertently opened a door to demonic oppression or quite possibly both), I moved onto Times Square Church. With services held in one of Broadway’s premiere theaters I sang in their rocking Gospel choir and sat under their teaching, seasoned in a Pentecostal/Holiness tradition with a prophetic punch brought on by senior pastor David Wilkerson (He regularly warned us that North America would fall because of homosexuals who would then roam in homosexual gangs. Apparently it is part of our agenda)

Through my connections with people in the Manhattan-based L.I.F.E. Ministries ex-gay program (and unemployed Broadway actor support group), I also occasionally attended Household of Faith Ministries (now Christian Cultural Center) a word of faith non-denominational church in Brooklyn that adhered to the teachings of Kenneth Copeland, Marilyn Hickey, and Kenneth Haggin. Oh the things I claimed in faith!

Through Times Square Church I became acquainted with a small house church in Yonkers, NY called the New Testament Missionary Fellowship. Without a pastor or Sunday program, the congregants of this small assembly needed to produce the ministry themselves, which included prophecies, spontaneous original songs, dancing in the Spirit and Bible lessons.

From there I moved to the UK and Zambia where I mostly attended non-denominational charismatic churches. After my world fell apart in Zambia, I attended a small charismatic church in England that bought into the Toronto Blessing with full-blown laughing in the spirit. At one Toronto Blessing-inspired conference I endured, “God” tried to minister to me through animal noises and grunts. All very entertaining (and terrifying) but I struggled to grasp what “God” was trying to tell me. During that time in England I also attended Wednesday communion services at the local Anglican parish.

When I returned to the States to attend the Love in Action ex-gay residential treatment facility in Memphis, TN, the program leaders forced us to attend Central Church, an Evangelical mega church with a mega choir and a theater-like atmosphere that dazzled us week after week in a giant round building resembling an abandoned space ship. As a struggling ex-gay, I attended the Men’s Sunday School class and Promise Keepers while avoiding the many rest rooms. We learned by experience about the a reputation for spontaneous gay sex during the service. Those crazy straight Evangelicals and their toilets!

When I could elect to go to a church of my choosing, I attended an Episcopal church led by a husband/wife ministry team that taught conservative theology with a sprinkling of Charismatic hands-on ministry and a failed attempt at the ALPHA Course (which I guess one could term as a success of sorts.)

When I came out as gay, I attended the monthly meetings of Integrity, a gay Episcopal group in downtown Memphis and latter became an officer in that group. On Sunday evenings I walked a half-block to a campus Episcopal church led by Samson, a Kenyan pastor who created a community feel to our services and organized gorgeous pot-luck dinners afterwards.

In 2001 I moved to Hartford, CT and soon after 911 I entered a Quaker meeting house and have been a Quaker ever since. So far I have found a home of sorts among "Friends" as we call each other. Quakers are big time pacifists. I have discovered that Quakers don't get violent, just passive aggressive. My favorite part has to be all the quiet we practice during our weekly meetings (and I have to say, for me it requires practice.)

In an upcoming post I write how some of my current Quaker experiences mirror some of my earliest Roman Catholic ones.

What about you? What does your faith odyssey look like?

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At 3:01 PM , Blogger Michelle Galo said...

My story's almost as long as yours, but I'll condense it:

From an Episcopal upbringing and baptism at six to an Episcopal summer camp starting at age eleven to three years working with Happening (a highly emotional retreat program for teens modeled after the adult program Cursillo) to a brief stint as a Latter-Day Saint (for real! I was baptized and everything) to a friendly nondenominational church to a slow decline of faith to working as a Christian camp counselor to volunteering with a youth group to recommitting my life to God at Acquire the Fire (a highly emotional youth conference complete with pyrotechnics) to four years in a campus ministry group to a year and a half as a youth pastor to crashing and burning and quitting the job and depression to two years waiting for God to speak to working at a Christian conference center to watching my diocese grow more divided to walking away from my faith to leaving the job to life as a happy nontheist.

...and breathe!

At 9:34 AM , Blogger paul said...

Oh Peterson,

You have been through it dear friend. Geez, David Wilkerson, you didn't fool around, if he couldn't save you you were obviously beyond hope. After all, David is a 'prophet' and speaks for God. sigh. It's a wonder you survived with your wit intact. Isn't it funny what actually turns out to be "the refiners fire" in our lives?

Me. I was born into it. I grew up in L.A.. As a very little kid, we went to "The Church of the Open Door" staring pastor J. Vernon McGhee. When we couldn't make it downtown, we attended a Calvinist Baptist Church on Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday.

At age 15, I became a Jesus freak. There was about 50 of us at my high school. At lunch time we would sit in a circle and sing, play the guitar, read the bible and pray. I was a member of Grace Community church, starring John MacArthur.

This was also a time of a charismatic movement. Though I was pretty certain at that age that I had been raised by people who didn't really "know God" (like I did), I still hauled a lot of my formerly conceived notions about God into my freakdom. I was one of the ones who thought that speaking in tongues might be of the devil. I wasn't really adamant, what really offended me was some of my friends telling me I didn't have the Holy Spirit unless I did speak in tongues. It was a topic of hot discussion.

At 17 I journeyed to BC Canada to attend a very small Baptist college. While there, I palled around with Ed. He had a VW and we drove around and explored our world together. He took me to a charismatic Catholic service (Baptists and Catholics don't mix, they are both convinced the other is going to hell). This was the first time I ever heard a whole bunch of people "singing in the Spirit" at one time, and I was really impressed. The Catholic priest prayed over me to receive the Holy Spirit (which I knew I already had), and not long after I, er, learned how to "speak in tongues." I was now officially charismatic. Now I could not remain at a Baptist college that taught that tongues was from the devil. So, I headed back to L.A. certain that God would be my teacher, after all, I was a disciple of Jesus. I joined Church on the Way, starring Jack Hayford.

At age 18 or 19, I went in search of aliens after reading the C.S. Lewis space trilogy. Well, sort of. I had my backpack packed and was off on a quest in search of spiritual experience. I didn't get far, didn't even leave the neighborhood. As I walked down the street, Pat, the brother of my future wife drove past and offered me a ride. We ended up going to what would become my next church. It was pastored by a middle aged woman who considered herself a prophet, she and David Wilkerson were birds of a feather. She also happened to be a messianic Jewish person. As a matter of fact, we all got David's monthly news letter (messages from God) and were quite in touch with the happenings at Times Square Church. Anyway, I ended up living at Pat's house and sleeping on his floor for the next 8 months or so. The "church" was very small indeed. Church in the home really. It was comprised of Pat, his two sisters, me, and Arleta. We were all kids, between 18 and 21 years old. Other kids would wander in and out of the group from time to time, but the five of us and the pastor comprised the core group (can you say "cult?", hey why not, everyone was doing it at that time) Church service was all of us standing in a circle with hands upraised, praying in tongues and "waiting on God." The idea was we were waiting for messages from "God" and "God" didn't disappoint.
It was at this 'church' where I first "confessed" my attraction to men. There were some really fun things we "received from God" ( they were plethora). For instance, Pat dug a moat around his house because it was received that God was going to judge the area of southern California where we lived with snow. He filled his attic with food, and made a little trap door where he would be able to get out of his house from the attic because the snow would be so high. I helped him make snow shoes from big pieces of plywood. It was Arleta who received I was to marry my wife. This happened after about a 6 month separation from her that "God" had also ordained. I left that 'church' around age 25, sort of. I felt like my identity (what little I had) was being swallowed up by the pastor, so I just sort of stopped going. A few months before my 26th birthday, I had my first sexual experience with a guy. I separated from my wife and moved to Virginia, I also lost my faith. After about six months, I reunited with my wife and God. In Virginia, we attended a Messianic synagogue for several years. After my gay side surfaced again, we left for a small black charasmatic church. Stayed there for a few years then went back to the messianic synagogue. During Y2K we bought the farm (literally) guided by more apocalyptic thinking. We didn't attend church for 6 years, then in 2006, I deconverted from fundamental Christianity. Now I attend Quaker services. Not sure who the heck God is or if there really is a God, but I cannot quite shake the notion that there is a God or what church God attends.

At 5:47 PM , Blogger KJ said...

David Wilkerson? J. Vernon McGhee (I loved listening to him as a kid; He sounded like Andy Griffith.)! John MacArthure? LDS! Jack Hayford? Man, we get around! What a bunch of trampy gay harlots (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)!

Actually, in all seriousness, I believe that we reflect in a small way the "scattering" of the early Christians from Jerusalem. Saddle up!

An "adventurephobe" like Bilbo Baggins, I had no desire to set out on a church odyssey. However, I know am very grateful for the experience as it has given me a glimpse of the breadth of the church catholic, and I've met many amazing people.

I grew up in Evangelical Land, first the Nazarene Church, then the Evangelical Free denomination. When God began to call me out, I was fortunate to have a nearby chapter of Evangelicals Concerned located in Seattle. There, for the first time in my life, I got to encounter those who identified themselves as gay AND Christian. And here I thought I was special!

After ejection from Evangelical Land, first stop was an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation. Though in a small Seattle suburb, the church was "welcoming," not in official "reconciliation", but in practice, and a safe place for me to decompress and learn that my fear of "liberal" was pure prejudice.

While there, I met the man who is now my partner, at the EC meetings. He wasn't too wild about the liturgy of the ELCA, or the "organized" church in general, and we ended up at an officially welcoming and affirming American Baptist church where one of the pastors was a partnered gay man. Though the people were friendly, we were unsuccessful in developing any sense of community, so we moved on. (I also found them to be too political even for my taste 9 years later. Though I think we all have a part to play in a democracy, I can go many places for my politics, but church, in my opinion, should be "safe" from the onslaught -- a sanctuary for the the things that should unite us, not divide.)

Next stop was a United Methodist Church. I can't remember exactly how we ended up there, but I figured if it was UMC in the Pacific Northwest, they'd be "welcoming." Well, it was more complicated than that. Turned out we were the only out gay couple. When the music director came out as a gay man (What?) a year or so after our arrival, the church was thrown into an uproar, requiring a time of discernment. I participated in that by sharing my story during the discernment process. Though that church has now moved into full inclusion, at that time, they decided to agree to disagree on "the topic." As that made it unlikely I'd ever invite a glbt friend to church and my partner was heading into a time of significant health crisis, both physical and emotionals, we moved on.

At that point, we landed, during Passion Week of 2005 at St. Mark's Cathedral, an Episcopal parish in Seattle. Caught by surprise, there we found home, and my spirit has responded to the liturgical worship in a way that I never expected. Add to that, the dignity to allow others to be where they are on their faith journey, a welcoming and affirming diocese, an urgency for social justice, and the quiet needed to listen, and I'm blessed while strengthened to be of some help to others. I am now an acolyte, carrying my candle, or as I like to say, "Being a flamer for Jesus!"

At 8:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

HCJB, Quito Ecuador....The VOice of the Andes!


At 3:45 PM , Blogger rayan said...

I come from the eastern serbain orthodox faith. What Canada and USA needs is a pastoral study: interdenominational school that is gay affirm(open to same sex marraige) and of a charismatic denomination open to dance/prophetic gifts as part of worship,(mystic chrsitainity using the apocrypha gospels)

At 12:21 PM , Anonymous Steve said...

So in other words you're a desperate moron with an intrinsic need for whatever fairy tale involving Jesus suits you at a particular moment and call your changing tastes a "faith odyssey". If you're unable to appreciate just how sad that emptiness is, I hope you at least manage to venture outside a single one of three Abrahamic religions on your extended deitourism.

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