By Leo Bancroft for PQ Monthly

I was in a bar the other day, telling a story about what’s new with my life.  I began by saying, “Well, I’m starting a church…”

My friend made a face.  Yep.  I would make that same face if I heard someone say that. Church is still a bad word sometimes.

Life is funny.  When I began hanging out in the LGBTQ community in Portland, I didn’t know I was trans, and I tried to keep my faith in God pretty quiet.  In a community that has been treated so poorly by the church, the last thing I wanted was for people to think some cis straight woman was coming in to save the gays (spoiler: I wasn’t).

Slowly I began speaking more about my faith when I realized that it was helpful to be a Christian ally in support of marriage equality.  Ironically, it was on the night I stood in front of the courthouse with a sign stating “Christian Ally for Marriage Equality” whooping and cheering with the rally against DOMA that I realized I am trans.

Fast forward three and a half years, and I’m an out and proud trans man, starting a church.

Last month, I wrote about a grant that the Oregon Lutherans are using to listen to the stories of the LGBTQIA community and create an alternative worshipping community out of this listening.  It is very exciting and intimidating to be doing this work, but I’m thrilled to share that we are beginning to take form and shape.

We have chosen a name.  We are The Flame.  As we state on our new website, theflamepdx.org,
“With this playful name we embrace our LGBTQIA and ally identity, and also evoke images of faith and spiritual renewal. We are an alternative worshiping community, a little start-up church, where we gather, build relationships and community, and share our faith journeys. We celebrate that all gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations are gifts from God and that we are beautifully and wonderfully made just as we are. We bring our questions, doubts, struggles, and joys. This is a group where we work to ensure that everyone feels safe and heard.  We celebrate the beautiful diversity of God’s creation, including us!”

On the one hand, starting a church in my living room isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination.  When I was twelve, I dressed up in an angel costume to play the role of the pastor in the funeral service for my friend Nicole’s bird.  In 2001, at 26, I decorated my living room in a church basement (construction paper signs and all), and threw a costumed themed party at my house, a “Lutheran Church Women’s Basement Potluck”. We dressed up with hats, dresses and gloves, had a great potluck and sang hymns.  Maybe my drag persona should be a church lady. Maybe I should accept the fact that as much as I cannot deny that I am trans, I cannot deny that I am a church nerd. Maybe I am starting to embrace that.  Fortunately, I am meeting many other LGBTQ pastors and seminarians who are teaching me the ways of being fabulous while being faithful. (for more see elm.org).

When I interviewed for this position, I told them that my main slogan is “I don’t care if you go to church, I don’t care if you believe in God.  It’s not my job and none of my business. I just want to make sure there is a safe and welcoming church for you if you want it.”  This will not change. Even as we start building The Flame, I will never try to convert you.  This is just one more part of my life that I can talk about when you ask, “So what’s new?”

I don’t blame you if you are turned off by the word “church”, and I will love you just as much if you are never interested in checking us out. You are amazing no matter what.

I’ll sign off with the opening we use for our gatherings.

“Welcome to the Flame. Here we build a healing community of faith, in which there is room for all.

If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or asexual,
You have a place here.

If the word queer is painful to you because of how it has been used for bullying,
You have a place here.

If you don’t believe in God, are mad at God, or just wonder how anyone could have faith,
You have a place here.

If your faith is solid, and your flame burns bright, or if you have questions, and your flame is wavering,
You have a place here.

If you are an ally whose heart longs for justice and a world where all are loved,

You have a place here.

The Flame is a place of love, healing, and celebration. Regardless of your age, income, health, housing status, relationship or family status, race, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation,
You have a place here.

We believe that each one of us has something to offer. Each one of us is beloved and worthy of love. If you need a reminder of this,
You have a place here.”

If you’d like more information, drop me a line or check out The Flame’s website at theflamepdx.org. We are still just newly beginning, but what an adventure!

Leo Bancroft is a Lutheran trans man. He volunteers on the boards of Cascade AIDS Project and ReconcilingWorks. You can reach him at leo@pqmonthly.com.

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