"Where are you a pastor?" It's not an uncommon question when you've chosen to do ministry in a small, rural town, especially when you wear a clerical collar much of the time. I'm getting used to the puzzled looks on people's faces as they struggle to reconcile a genderqueer body in this traditionally masculine shirt.
Today, though, this person seems genuinely curious and, even though I'm in a hurry, I decide to stop and answer her question.
"I'm a pastor at the Unitarian Universalist church."
"What kind of church is that?" she asks, clearly puzzled by not getting the standard Baptist or Apostolic Lutheran answer people come to expect around here. I've gotten used to it, though, having had to provide an question on more than one occasion. We aren't exactly the largest faith in the world after all, and, considering we're one of only three congregations in the region, a native here is likely never to have heard of us. I struggle, trying to remember my elevator speech from seminary, wondering how do I convey the essence of our faith to a person in a conservative town.
"We're an open and inclusive religion with people of different faiths and beliefs.”
She's clearly processing what I've managed to come up with, and searches for a response. She's met a non-Christian, and the abrasiveness of this on her preconceptions is apparent.
"Is that the kind of church that lets queers in?"
I smile internally, knowing that this is the only way she knows how to classify us, having already been lost for words. This is what she really wants to know: are there sinners in our church?
"Yes, we are," I reply, and she walks away with a simple, "Oh."
Yes, indeed, we are, I think. Straights and "normies" are definitely present, but every gay, lesbian, and queer person is welcome in our congregation because they need church, too.
Come, every person of every race, ethnicity, creed, sexuality, gender identity and expression, sex, political belief, class, age, and ability. Let us come together, learn from one another. Let us build Beloved Community together, not because we're all the same.
Our differences matter, but not so much that we can't find community with one another. We need places to find the Sacred and the Holy, to be transformed in the light of a faith that demands inquiry more than conformity, and to transform those who would see the sacredness of human identity as a sin rather than a blessing.
Hopefully, one day, ours will become so common a way that I'll no longer have to remember my elevator speech during spontaneous random encounters.
And, yes, my random encounter, you have a place at the table, too. I'll be saving a seat for you whenever you're ready.