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How A Church Became A Home

August 9, 2017
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By Nathaniel Shell

I grew up in church. It’s part of who I am. As a little boy it was my safe place. It appealed to me. At church, everything was nice and people were kind. Raised by a single mother that had long ago stopped attending church, I went all by myself. It was like a weekly family reunion with lots of sweet aunts, uncles and grandparents who doted on me – this child who came alone.

I never quit. Even in high school and college, I was in my pew. About 30 years ago, I joined a church with people like me – GAY! About one third of the congregation was gay. I no longer had to be in the closet in church. I was just me…until “IT” happened.

Three years in, the new minister preached an anti-gay sermon on the highest attended Sunday of the year. I was shocked and felt like I’d been sucker punched in the gut. For the first time in my life I quit going to church. That little boy’s safe place was gone in a flash and I was broken hearted. That was in November of 1988, and when Christmas came I found myself unchurched.

The sadness and isolation grew until spring, until one Sunday morning, I woke up and flipped on the television. There on the screen I found what became my salvation. First United Methodist Church, Dallas. I got my personal hymnal and sat in my bed singing hymns and reading responses and found myself in worship for the first time in nearly six months. I liked it.

The following Sunday, I got dressed, drove downtown and nervously sat down, not knowing if it was going to happen again. Despite my fears, I missed having a church in my life. I needed to try again. It was the season of Lent, my favorite time of the Christian year. I liked what I saw and what I heard. This might be the place, I thought.

I kept coming. Eventually, I decided I needed to talk to someone. I called and made an appointment to meet with a minister. One of the associates on staff, the Rev. Tim McLemore, came to my home to meet with me. I was very upfront with him. I told him who I was – a gay man looking for a church home. He knew about what happened at my previous church. He also shared with me that FirstChurch’s senior minister at the time, Dr. Hal Brady, had told everyone on staff that if people found their way to FirstChurch as a result of this trauma, we would welcome them with open arms.

That’s what I found – open arms, open minds and open hearts. I found a family of wonderful loving people who welcomed me, trusted me with their children and made me a part of their church family. I’m not alone or closeted here. There are many more like me, and all are equally loved and welcomed. I’m one of the lucky ones. So many have been turned away from the churches they love, like trash. Some found new church homes like me, but many never came back. Would you blame them?

In two years, I’ll celebrate 30 years since I made one of the best decisions I ever made in my life! Joining FirstChurch has given me a better life. It may even have saved it, and for that I’m thankful. I hope the “CHURCH” sees what’s going on before it’s too late and opens the doors to let the light shine in. This is my story and my prayer. Let it be.

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