by: J Rourke
This morning, I went to a tax preparer to amend my tax return, a routine task for this company, but all did not go as expected. My preparer, James, was late. We met at an office branch he seldom uses, which we discovered has malfunctioning heat, and systems which had not been updated to the new software. So while we waited for technical assistance, we talked.
I told him I’m a youth pastor and a barista at a local coffee shop. James was raised Southern Baptist, went to Christian private schools, and graduated from a bible college. After graduating, he was hired at his home church as an interim youth pastor, then did the same at another church.
“It sounds terrible, I know, but I just kind of faded out of it,” he said. “I used to be real fundamentalist, but as I became more and more liberal, I wasn’t the kind of guy they wanted hanging around church. I still believe, you know, but I didn’t feel like I could go to church anymore after a while. I miss it.”
We talked about coffee, about the weather, but we kept circling back to church. He seemed interested that someone with piercings and tattoos could be in ministry. “People outside of the church are doing good, too,” he said, “people who look like you do. But my church wasn't supportive: you either conformed, or you were bad.” I spoke of my love for being in ministry and how introducing myself as a Quaker youth pastor gets me into a lot of cool conversations with people doing good all over the place.
“Oh, Quaker. I missed that part,” he said. “Now I can tell you: I’m gay. And that’s why I don't go to church anymore. But I did visit a church recently, a Quaker one, where that wasn’t a problem, and I’ll tell you, I’m interested. Hesitant, but interested.”
Two things come to mind: introducing myself as a youth pastor made me an unsafe presence. But I am a Quaker. Apparently, that changes things.
My friends, I did not have the heart to tell James the truth. That if he came to many of our churches, he would not find communities much different from what he left. He would not feel safe. I could not encourage him. I don’t know where he visited, but it was not most of our churches.
But James found safety in a Quaker community. He found it so tangibly, so incarnationally, that he transferred that experience to me and trusted me with his life’s most sensitive secret. A Jesus thing happened in a cold office while I waited for my taxes to be amended, because somewhere, some group of people called themselves Quakers and told a gay man he might come and rekindle his faith in community with them.
This can be our story, too. And it doesn’t require a rainbow banner on our church roof, a change of faith and practice, or a unified agreement on what homosexuality means. It starts by accepting that folks in dark and isolated places see the name Quaker and think, “That is a place where I might fit.” We can bear that name. We can help folks know Christ in community. We can be those Quakers.
Please, friends. Be those Quakers. I hope to see James again.