Church Shopping Begins: Not White, Gay Friendly, Theologically Past Liberal

Today I find myself at a bend in the river that I didn’t see coming.

Our lives were blessed last week with two very precious daughters ages 9 and 10.  For the past year we’ve been planning, taking classes and filling out paper work to become foster parents. And then we waited. When we got the call that Niah and Nae would be coming to live with us, it happened so suddenly that we are still catching our breath.

For one thing, we assumed that our children would be boys. The initial false-start calls had been about boys, white boys. It is mostly boys that are in the system. When we got the call about girls, we were both surprised and delighted.

For another thing, as is often the case in foster care, the children were forced to move without time to gather their belongings. The move for children means a total loss of everything material, and a scramble for the new family to build a wardrobe and the rudimentary trappings of life.

The most surprising piece for me, however, is how protective I suddenly feel for two young African American girls pulled from a world of extended family and tossed into a sea of well intentioned white folk. Social worker, therapist, school principal, and moms – all white women. Everyone is working together and truly impressive in their intention and commitment, but at the end of the day, we bring what we have and I fear that we’re missing a major piece.

As I stood in line with the girls at one of our family’s favorite haunts, Ted Drewes, I experienced in a new way the almost total whiteness of the crowd.  Reminiscent of my coming out experience, I was nonetheless surprised by the experience of otherness. For me, this is an experience that I sought and for which I prepared, for our girls it is not. I looked into their faces expecting to see delight as we partook of the treasured frozen custard, instead I saw distress and heard, “Can we eat this in the car?”

Safely in the car with my dear one in charge of music, the car rocked with girl power dancing and I knew. We need to find at least one community where faces of color are dominant and strong black women are smiling back into the faces of these precious children. But where? I am theological past liberal, having dispensed with the trinity and holding my own with the Friends (Quakers) probably because there are so few words. I suspect my theological qualms are more problematic even than our two-mom family configuration. Nonetheless, I need to swallow my theological attitude and find a church where we can dance as the children (and spirit) lead us.

I posted my query in Facebook: Need to find: racially diverse (not-white), gay friendly, theologically *very* liberal church in St. Louis. Recommendations?

The answers were heartfelt and precious, but illuminating. Several folk recommended a number of really wonderful United Methodist communities.  I think in every case, the churches are pastored by white clergy and in no case are these clergy allowed to honor our family. UMC clergy who dare to preside at same-gender marriages are actually charged and even dismissed from the ranks. While it is heartening to hear of local communities who stand in welcome, I have no desire to participate in an institution that is struggling to see me as fully human.

One friend pointed out the prophetic nature of the query and I pause to consider. Maybe so.

Or maybe it is time to turn the prism. If what our family needs is a place of gathering not headed by white folk, this white woman needs to stop pushing against the current and flow with the river around this bend.

In fairness, the biblical narrative sounds different when preached from a place of oppression. The story was written by and for oppressed communities as a word of both of hope but also of resistance.  Though I had wearied of the story preached from within the affluence of the ‘burbs, I was moved by it’s power in response to the modern passion of Trayvon Martin. Quite frankly, who we are dramatically changes the words we share, regardless of our intent. And today we need to find a not-white preacher.

The girls told me what clothing they needed and I ran around yesterday to find it. This morning we’ll start the arduous but important journey that so many families have faced: church shopping. We’ll start with a United Church of Christ community led by an African American, there are (I think) three in our metro area.

And I’ll watch the girls feet to see if they dance as I learn to follow.

8 Replies to “Church Shopping Begins: Not White, Gay Friendly, Theologically Past Liberal”

  1. Katy,
    I am so happy for you. What a wonderful opportunity for these two girls to be ably to benefit from a warm, loving, and compassionate home. When Michael and I were first together, I always noticed those around us–i.e. did we BOTH fit in. After awhile one begins to see only other folks as they relate to us and with us, not what they look like. MY prayers are with the four of you as you adjust to this new family configuration. God Bless.

    1. Thank you, Margie! No doubt we’ll run into each other now that it’s spring and the girls are getting us out of the house! 🙂 Watch for two tall and beautiful young girls with LOTS of spunk!

    1. Thanks, David. We worshipped at St. Johns UCC with Starsky Wilson… the very same sermon that would set my teeth on edge in the ‘burbs had no meaning offered in the most devastated zip code. Learning, learning, learning…

    1. I *love* Epiphany and especially Mary Albert!!! We did, though, need to hear a not-white preacher… and we needed to be in a place that were white was the minority.

  2. I see compromises ahead; Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week in America. Bless you all for pushing back, and good luck in your search.

    When we adopted our African American son in 1968, he was welcomed with delight into the U-U Fellowship in Carbondale. Unfortunately, he was, and remained, the only dark person in the group, and along about 10-11 years old, he declined to attend any more. I was happy that he could tell me why, but there were no integrated congregations there, and as an agnostic I felt it would be hypocritical to attend any of the Black churches. Finally we moved to an integrated neighborhood in North Carolina (integrated = a middle-class Black subdivision with three white families), and Peter began attending a Missionary Baptist church, on invitation of the boy next door. The following year he joined, and has remained MB ever since. They welcomed me to their services but I couldn’t swallow the dogma, and I joined the Quakers. We laughed because his sister was faithfully attending the U-U youth group, and we split in three directions on Sundays. The unifying motif was comfort, and hope that each of us would be able to make spiritual progress in our chosen congregation. It worked, thanks to a lot of love and community support.

    1. I see a multi-church pattern in our future too, Margaret. 🙂 For today, being with the kids and having a turn at being the minority is good; and Starsky Wilson (St. John’s UCC on North Grand) is a fabulous preacher. Still, my spirit longs for the quiet…

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