One night, Sharon and Mark stumbled on a cute, old church building with the name “Christian Chapel” above the doors. Seeing a light shining from a side room, they knocked tentatively on the door. An older, willowy-looking man appeared. He was dressed in a white shirt and tie and introduced himself as Pat, the pastor of the church. Pat explained that they were in the middle of a prayer meeting and invited Sharon and Mark to join. They nervously declined but said they would be back Sunday morning with their friends.
A few days later, about 12 of us trundled along to the church. As we made our way down the center aisle to the front of that little Christian Chapel, I’m not sure who was more shocked—the church members or us. Talk about a clash of cultures. The men were wearing suits, and the ladies had on hats and gloves. We were dressed like we had just rolled out of bed after a hard night partying. I still had on my pajama top!
We were a ragtag bunch of ex-prostitutes, drug dealers, gays, punks, and goths. They were a fundamentalist church filled with conservative-looking old folk. Yet despite the obvious differences between us and them, we managed to stay. Those older folk had no clue what to do with us, but they did know how to love and how to pray. They somehow managed to reach across the cultural divide to lovingly embrace us and include us in the bigger church family. The early years of our discipleship were worked out in the context of that little church.
Not all those church folks embraced us that easily, of course. There was some grumbling going on behind the scenes. Pat eventually let us in on a little secret: given that the “youth” group was in their 60s, that Wednesday night prayer meeting that Sharon and Mark stumbled on had been set up specifically to pray that God would bring young people into their church. Pat would constantly remind the grumblers that we were the answer to their prayers, and it wasn’t his fault they weren’t specific enough with God about the type of young people they wanted!
A Bible Study On the Fringe
Pat really was one amazing, grace-filled pastor; it was like nothing fazed him. He came to our home dressed in his suit and tie every Wednesday to lead a Bible study. Nothing too radical about that, except that while the Bible was being taught around the kitchen table, drugs just might be being bought and sold in the living room, men could be in bed with each other upstairs, and it was highly likely the crazy Greek brothers John and George would be noisily casting out demons in the backyard.
Pat used to tell us we were the apples of his eye. He never once took a moralistic, tongue-clucking approach with us. He knew God was at work in us, and he didn’t want to mess with that. He knew the Holy Spirit would eventually sort some things out, and despite how he might have personally felt about our crazy lifestyles and wild household, he remained true. I can still see him sitting at our table with his big Scofield Bible and that little twinkle in his eye. And while he did eventually ditch his suit coat, he always wore his characteristic shirt and tie.
Many of us eventually left the Christian Chapel to go into full-time ministry—a wonderful testament to a church that was willing to go beyond their comfort zones to embrace a strange people from a strange land. Pat’s ability to see the bigger picture of God’s redemptive purpose and priorities meant he didn’t get judgmental or controlling, nor did he push us beyond what we were ready to own and live. He modeled Jesus in his open-hearted posture toward those who were seen as sexually scandalous—a posture that is sorely needed within the church in any time and place.
—Debra Hirsch is author of Redeeming Sex. This article is excerpted from Redeeming Sex; copyright 2015 by Debra Hirsch. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.