By Mike Wozniak:
For 12 years I attended Catholic school, even though the Catholic Church never once seriously resonated with me. I stayed connected to the Church, however, because if I didn’t attend, I felt guilty. I didn’t participate in the Catholic Church because I wanted to, but because I felt obligated to do so. A definitely counter-productive attitude!
Who goes back into the closet?
It bothered me that there are so many different interpretations of the Bible, various translations that muddy the meaning as the ages pass, and different ideologies are introduced. A friend commented to me, for instance, that the Bible forbids homosexuality, and I had a hard time accepting that judgment.
Nonetheless, after being out of the closet for some time, I went back in after that conversation with my friend.
Even after my 12 years of schooling were done, I continued to participate and volunteer at the Church. I had good relationships with the priests. It was no secret that they were gay, but still, I felt guilty. Long before the internet, I joined a dating service and did my best to be the same as all my heterosexual friends.
Square peg, meet round hole.
It just didn’t work out. It took a lot of intense counseling with my life coach to figure out how to extricate myself from that hot mess.
My coach helped me further our sessions by giving me a homework assignment: she challenged me to find a gay-friendly church.
A priest suggested I try the United Church of Christ
I came up with a shortlist of possible congregations to join and then decided to seek advice from the parish priest in the town where I grew up. He told me that the United Church of Christ was the denomination best known for being gay-friendly.
It so happened that a local United Church of Christ was on my list, so I went there first.
For the first time in my life, I felt that the pastor was speaking directly to me. I had goosebumps, even tears, as I listened to his sermon. It was such a personal and intimate response and a totally new experience. I knew right away that I was in the right place.
I started going to church because I actually wanted to be there, which was another first for me!
I find such profound value in the teachings that I take notes during sermons. Who does that? It sounds crazy, but the sermons mean that much to me.
What was the difference between this church and the Catholicism I grew up with?
Well, the Windermere Union Church is all about inclusion. Its mission is stated like this:
- Provoking thought
- Inspiring spirit
- Accepting all
Though the United Church of Christ is not a “gay church”—it’s predominantly straight—the congregation is nothing if not welcoming, loving, and supportive.
Recently, Pastor Barton recounted a story of conversing with a colleague from a different denomination. The colleague commented that it seems Pastor Barton chooses to focus attention on all the love and none of the guilt and damnation often seen in other churches. While his colleague thought perhaps Pastor Barton may have taken this in a slightly insulting way, Barton actually took it as a compliment. He likens this to how most soft drinks offer a “lite” version and calls his approach to preaching as “Church Lite.”
I never enjoyed feeling guilty in my Catholic upbringing. Life is difficult enough without the added stress of guilt and shame from a place that is supposed to lift you up. That’s why I would take “Church Lite” any day. I couldn’t be more grateful for Pastor Barton and Windermere Union Church..
We are encouraged to follow our own inspiration
One of my favorite sermons from Pastor Barton was in March 2020 preaching from John 4:5-42. The sermon focused on the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. Jesus taught that if we look deep inside ourselves, we will find a gushing spring of spiritual nourishment, a depthless well of love and inspiration.
Pastor Barton and the congregation at the Windermere Union Church have helped me get in touch with my own inner wellspring. I feel incredibly welcomed at Windermere Union Church and am proud to call this church my spiritual home.