Dean Jenkins, like many other openly gay or lesbian people, felt there was no place for him at any church outside of Washington, D.C., where there is a sizable gay and lesbian population.
Certainly some churches in the Reston area are welcoming, he said, but there was a dearth of religious services specifically catered to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning community.
“If you are gay and Christian, you are met with disbelief,” Jenkins said.
So Jenkins, along with others at the Washington Plaza Church at Lake Anne, have created a new monthly Christian discussion group to provide an outlet for spirituality among GLBTQ residents of Northern Virginia.
“There are many gay men and women who have a hunger for God,” Jenkins said. “I don’t believe I’m the only gay man in Fairfax County who wanted a welcoming church.”
The discussion group, held at 6:30 p.m. in the church’s sanctuary the first Sunday of every month, is called YAWeH, or You Are Welcome Here. The discussion last Sunday, titled “Can I walk with Jesus in my designer loafers?” focused on how it doesn’t matter how people look or choose to live their life, so long as they are good people. Next month’s discussion will center on reconciling perceptions of Christianity with a family member’s homosexuality.
A main theme that runs throughout the services and is addressed by many of the discussions is the affirmation that the GLBTQ community is welcome in the Christian faith.
CHRISTIAN members of the GLBTQ community sometimes feel uncomfortable discussing their faith with other gays or lesbians, said Bruce Freitas, a regular participant in the YAWeH service and an openly gay man.
The discussion group gives the community a chance to delve into issues of faith that might otherwise be kept quiet, he said.
“It’s about exploring who you are and finding your personal relationship with God,” he said.
Freitas was careful to add that the service is not intended to evangelize or to push conservative religious values down anyone’s throat.
“They don’t try to turn us into little Jesus robots or anything,” he said.
In fact, though the services are geared toward Christians, much of the message is that faith is a personal matter and subject to interpretation, Jenkins said.
“I see this group as very concerned with the spiritual,” he said. “It’s a safe and welcoming community.”
THE WASHINGTON Plaza Church is a progressive Baptist congregation, open to people of all races, genders, and sexual orientation. At the service Sunday night, the audience included gays, straights, blacks, whites and Asians.
Because the Baptist Church does not have a hierarchy of authority, individual churches are permitted to take stances on issues and to be more or less open to different groups.
“That’s the best thing about being Baptist - you can say whatever you want,” said Sandi John, the church’s pastor.
The church at Lake Anne does its best to be open to everyone, including the GLBTQ community, Jenkins said.
“This service is open to anybody who wants to participate,” he said. “There is no rejection here.”