Monday, October 23, 2006

Broadway Church's Homecoming

I am a member of Broadway Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana--the most non-traditional, traditional church I have ever seen. I first visited Broadway back in 1998 shortly after I came out to the pastor of the church I had been attending. My news prompted the pastor, one of my closest friends, to tell me how much he loved me and that I would no longer be allowed to minister at that church. Having never been comfortable as a bystander at any church, much less one that would discount everything I'd ever done because of something I cannot change, I left.

It was a lonely time for me. I wasn't out to my family or any friends who shared my faith. Most of my friends who accepted me as I was couldn't imagine why I would want to go to church in the first place. Somehow I'd heard a rumor that Broadway welcomed all people. I sat in the back pews for several weeks trying not to talk to anyone, which was almost impossible because at every service the church would recite the following mission statement:
"As followers of Jesus Christ responding to God's love, our mission as the people of Broadway Church is to be multicultural, Christian community than in its ministries seeks, welcomes, and values all people,"
and then, like a stomped-on ant hill, the congregation would disperse and spend the next five minutes hugging everyone in sight, traveling front to back if need be in what a friend of John's once described as an "all skate."

I'd never been in a church that so gleefully welcomed (really welcomed) all people while exuding so much of the Spirit of Christ. It's kind of sad that I'd been conditioned to see these as separate phenomena. Eventually I committed to welcoming folks there as a member myself.

It was clear to me as I looked around this enormous, and ragged in some places, 1927 English Gothic building that Broadway Church had a history. I could sense it in the candlelit darkness of our hushed, holy, almost mystical Christmas Eve services. I would hear snippets of it from members who'd been there forever--how the church has frequently struggled, sometimes clumsily, to be on the forefront of what justice and mercy could mean in this world. How when the denomination had wanted the church to die, the congregation would not be killed. Turns out that Broadway is a living symbol of resurrection power.

I wanted some sort of connection to my church's past. I remembered the church Homecomings from when I was a kid. Typically these were picnics or potlucks. I wondered if something like this would get people back in a way that might help me put more pieces of the puzzle together. Turns out that two long-time Broadway faithfuls, Barb Taylor and Roger Sell (later crowned Broadway Homecoming Queen and King), had the same idea, though maybe for different reasons. They took the ball and ran with it in a way I never would have.

Before it was all over, a weekend was planned that would include turning the church's elegant parlor into a historic archives full of history from wall to wall, reunions of years of Sunday School classes, a dinner and service where people would drive from cross country for three days to reconnect with this place that had touched them in profound ways. Multiple generations returned. Getting ready for the event nearly knocked a few of us off before it even happend, especially floor-buffing and wall-painting miracle workers Randy and Jerry, but it was worth it. The church doesn't look ragged any longer.

During the dinner Saturday night, the Community Room was so jammed with people that tables were placed on one of the stages. That is where I wanted to be, a place where I could look out and see what the present sitting with the past looks like. As I sat at the table, surrounded by amazing friends--current members who are all so different and who still manage to find such joy and fun in one another--I was so grateful for what we'd been given by the people who'd been here before. They weren't perfect, but they left us with such a gift--this church that joins us--a legacy of love, mercy, curiosity, stubborness and creativity to build on. That legacy was recognized in the form of an award given for lifetime service to Margaret Pengilly, a woman whom I fear I will one day hug to death because to be near her is to be close to the heart of God.

Phil Amerson, one of the former pastors and one of our beloved Pastor Mike's mentors remarked that, "If ever there was a place for the "others" of the world, it is Broadway." I wrote that down in my program next to the signatures of all of the people at the tables around me (I had them sign it like a yearbook), shortly before one of the center pieces near us caught fire.

The next day I was with Amy, a photographer friend of mine I'd asked to come take pictures. I escorted her during the service to all of the really cool places from which to shoot and got a birds eye of view of everything. Services at Broadway on most days are pretty traditional and "high." On special occasions, there's lots of choir singing and processing. I love it. On really special days, someone marches down the center aisle with the huge Broadway family Bible over their heads. And Chris, our supreme organist, rocks the joint on our pipe organ. When all of worship is working together like that it takes my breath away. This was one of those days.

The moment that summed the weekend up for me and that makes me cry when I write about it was when relatively new members and our good friends Duane, Todd, and their kids Daniel and Mari lit the altar candles with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Chisler who have been there forever. I can't decide what it was about seeing this that touched me. Maybe it was the past and the future working together. Maybe it was that I see myself in Duane and Todd, and I know I will never hear what I heard from my last church at Broadway. Maybe it is that no matter how glad I was to have people come back, seeing the Chislers reminded me that there were a bunch of hearty, Godly folks who stuck it out and never left. I see us all in a new light now.


4 Comments:

Blogger juliebelle said...

beautiful it is.

8:45 AM  
Blogger wiebke said...

I love this post. I wish I could find a place like this. I am so happy that you were able to.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous jennie said...

This post was amazing, Troy. Thanks for sharing.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Roger Sell said...

Wow, Troy, you do have a way with words. I experienced much of the same at homecoming, but you've captured it so well in your writing. And actually Barb and I weren't planning to host an all-church event. That was YOUR dream. And we're all thankful for it.

1:17 PM  

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