In March 2014, our friend, the Rev. Amy Piatt, heard about our story of exclusion and heartache, and invited us to find safe space and sanctuary at historic First Christian Church in downtown Portland. We decamped there, wondering if we would even have a church community in the days ahead. Despite losing all our start-up funding and support, we began to see that provision and blessing were all around us in ways we had never imagined.
It was around Ash Wednesday - the kick off to the season of Lent, where the call is to an inner, downward journey of reflection around mortality and the things that truly matter. We spent that Lent holed up in a choir room, looking at one another, praying and asking aloud would we be a thing by Easter?
A reported contacted Adam and asked if he’d like to share our story. That led to more opportunities to share and a national conversation about inclusion in churches was underway - we were featured in publications like the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, NPR and in far off places like Kenya, the UK and Australia. We put out a video appeal and eventually raised back nearly two-thirds of our funding through crowdsourcing around the globe. People stepped up, people joined in, and a community was truly being born anew.
Some of us walked in our first Pride parade and a quick photo of Adam & Sarah holding a sign saying “Sorry” for all the awful things done in the name of God went viral. Marriage Equality passed that summer as the law of the land and it seemed like the Spirit was definitely up to something special.
We moved out of that little choir room into a church fellowship hall and more friends and co-conspirators showed up. The root meaning of the word conspire means something like “breathing together” - which for us meant catching the winds of that Holy Breath in the air all around us compelling us forward and deeper.
We met new friends like Oasis, under the leadership of folks like Steve Chalke and Jill Rowe, who helped us formulate (and borrow!) an ethos that reflected our hopes for an open, active & inclusive congregation. Big ideas like Equality, Inclusion, Relationships, Hope and Perseverance meant something not only in our shared story, but in the Christ-rooted journey of pilgrims near and far trying to live out the way of Jesus and transformation.
We kept growing. In numbers and in depth. We started the Bridgetown Forum: conversations for the Common Good, and had important conversations around race, immigration, LGBTQ and homelessness. We were inspired by guest speakers like Jim Wallis, Jenny Yang, Matthew Vines, Paula Williams and Rob Bell.
The Atlantic featured our story with a mini-documentary short and we kept on walking, reflecting and listening to others. Small groups expanded; babies and fresh life commitments were born. Our staff, leadership and volunteers grew. We moved out of the fellowship hall into a sanctuary. We even started Public Theology, a monthly Bible Study in a bar.
Though we experienced fierce exclusion in our becoming, we never imagined that this exclusion would be made beautiful - allowing us to truly fling our arms wide open in the pursuit and presence of radical Christ-centered inclusion. We found friends that had similar stories of heartache, doubt and broken relationships, one thing kept revealing itself: the presence and goodness of people. It seems like in our time of need we found others in need, too - and something bigger and beautiful began to be realized.
When we celebrate communion - which for us is a weekly event remembering Jesus’ Last Supper but also a rehearsal of that Great Banquet where all will be made right in the end - we proudly proclaim that “All people!” are not only invited, but needed for this journey with Jesus.
We’ve experience a sort of death as well as a sort of resurrection. We're still in the process of becoming - we don't have all the answers, sometimes even more doubt and deeper questions. We know we're incomplete. How will we do our part to end white supremacy? What can we do to stem the tide against housing crises and breaking down walls? Yet through all of this, we’re beginning to heed the call to go deeper, spread our wings a bit, and take that next leap of faith...