By Ryan Phipps
A few weeks back, I was invited to the launch party of a new talk show written and produced by a friend of mine.
The venue, called “Hardware” in Hell’s Kitchen, was an interesting place. Though it’s listed as a gay bar on Yelp, I was unaware until I got there that it’s also one of the hottest spots in the city for drag shows.
I grabbed a drink at the bar and thought to myself, “Well, I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
The place was packed, standing room only (an introvert’s nightmare). I found a group of mutual friends along the wall and did my best to disappear in the shadows.
The house lights went down and my friend appeared on stage to a roar of applause.
As I stood along the wall sipping some syrupy concoction of four dollar rum and punch, he said some opening words about the night. He followed it with something I was totally unprepared for. He looked me straight in the eye, extended his hand, and said, “I’m so happy my pastor is here tonight.”
People started looking around the room, and this bald, unkempt, straight, white, 40-something felt his face flush.
The first episode that premiered that night was insightful, heartwarming, hilarious, and peppered with just the right amount of crassness. It featured an interview with two well-known NYC drag queens.
I’d never heard stories like theirs before. What’s more, I realized I’d never even applied myself enough in life to be in a context where I could. I laughed, teared up, and gasped as they talked fashion, faith, love, dreams, and everything in between.
I was getting a glimpse into a world I’d never seen before.
As the show ended to a standing ovation and people began to file out of the venue, more than a few drag queens hugged me and thanked me for being there. Some of them were even faces that I recognized from church.
Who knew? I had no idea.
I left the venue that night realizing something I didn’t when I walked in. This marginalized, courageous, beautiful mass of people had welcomed me—the very kind of person that had been the cause of so much of their suffering and marginalization.
I thought about how many times each of these precious children of God had been politely tolerated in (or worse, turned away from) houses of worship by people just like me. And yet, there was not a hint of tolerance or rejection being shown to me in their house—only a welcoming love. It felt like family. It felt like…well…what I want church to feel like for every person who enters.
The festivities finally ended. I walked outside, the words of John’s epistle playing on a loop inside of me.
I hailed a cab, got in, and texted a friend of mine.
“I just left a gay bar and saw my first drag show. What a courageous, beautiful, welcoming group of people. My heart is full.”
I suppose a pastor’s best teachers are often the people they’re pastoring.
Ryan is the Lead Pastor of Forefront Church in Manhattan, New York City. Forefront is a vibrant, growing faith community dedicated to cultivating a just and generous expression of the Christian Faith in New York City and around the world. Ryan also serves as the Director of Communications at Convergence, a parachurch network building a multi-denominational movement of progressive congregations and leaders. In his spare time Ryan can be found at his desk writing for The Huffington Post, composing music, or designing things.
Learn more about Ryan at ryanphipps.com
Source: The Huffington Post