Baby showers don’t usually do a whole lot for me. But I went to one today that left me feeling so full and happy that I still haven’t stopped smiling. Stephanie and Chrissy are expecting their first child, Amelia Rae, in a few weeks. The people in our Holy Trinity family are so thrilled that they’re already calling dibs on who gets to hold her during worship.
At today's baby shower, Stephanie and Chrissy received gifts from the whole congregation. I was so touched to see the three little sleepers that an elderly widower from the congregation gave them. And there were gifts from people who have only worshipped with us a few times. The guests at the shower included folks who were male and female; married, partnered and single; toddlers through senior citizens; straight, gay and transgender; parents, grandparents and doggy parents. All showered the new moms, not only with their gifts, but with their love.
Chrissy and Stephanie first started attending Holy Trinity when their relationship was budding. Then, they decided to get married and went to another state to make it legal. Next, they told us they were going to have a baby. Every step of the way they have been loved and supported by their church family.
I’m so thankful to be a part of a congregation where this is possible. In fact, it’s so commonplace at Holy Trinity for same-gender couples to marry and have families that I forget how unusual this would be for most other churches in Charlotte, North Carolina. I feel like I’m living in a bubble in that regard. While all around me pastoral colleagues have been battling for years with their congregations over sexual orientation, when I came to Holy Trinity, that war was over. They were already completely open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s been over six years now since I first met with the search committee at Holy Trinity. Back then, their biggest problem was a membership so small that they were struggling to survive. As I sat with leadership to talk about my potential pay package, they insisted that they wanted a full time pastor and they were prepared to pay me for full time work. But when I asked them how long they would be able to compensate me at that level, if nothing changed, they told me we had about eight months. They knew that I could very well become the last pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. And yet, the faithful remnant at Holy Trinity believed so strongly in their mission that they couldn’t imagine how God would ever allow that to happen.
I believed in their mission, too. Although I wasn’t as convinced as they were that they were going to make it, with all my heart, I wanted to them to make it. At the time they were the only Reconciling in Christ congregation in our North Carolina Synod; they had carried the banner for the full inclusion of LGBT folks for a long time, and at great cost. I knew that other congregations were already pointing to Holy Trinity in their struggle for survival, saying, “See, that’s what happens when you welcome gay people into your church; we don’t want to become like Holy Trinity.” But I had another vision for Holy Trinity. I wanted other congregations to point to them and say, “Why can’t we become more like Holy Trinity?” I felt so passionately about it that when I was called to become their next pastor, I had to come.
When I first arrived at Holy Trinity, we only had one family with young children and no babies. Our new nursery, which I insisted would be in place before my first Sunday, stood empty, never used once in over two years. If a family should come to worship with us, they would take one look around, see no other small children, and that would be the end of them. I was beginning to think that I would never baptize an infant.
All of that changed when Kevin and Aaron, who were foster parents, started attending our church. I can’t remember exactly how it all unfolded, but suddenly we were crawling with kids. And that brings us to where we are today. We have families with a mom and a dad, some with a single parent, others have two dads or two moms. When they all come to the altar for communion on Sunday mornings, I can hardly take it in; there is so much to celebrate!
I have witnessed so many God-moments at Holy Trinity that I lose track of them. But next Sunday, I know another one is coming. After 32 years of ordained ministry, I’ll be baptizing my first triplets when three little boys will be brought to the font by their two moms. We’ll welcome them into God’s family through the power of the water and the word and this extraordinary community of love that surrounds them.
What did I ever do to deserve a congregation like this? Not a blessed thing, that’s what. They’re a gift from God. I’ve always insisted that the most important thing I can do as a pastor is love my congregation and if I can no longer do that, I need to leave. Well, it takes no effort whatsoever to love the people of Holy Trinity. I’d be crazy to think about leaving.