Recently, I wrote about one unusual congregation (Mark Driscoll's Trinity Church) starting up in Phoenix and now here's another, at the opposite end of the theological pole. The United Church of Christ is one of the country’s most liberal Protestant denominations and one of their clergy seems to have found a way to minister to transsexual youth. This NPR piece is on the church he started back in 2009 that has, to one degree or another, taken off.
I think it’s fine to spotlight unusual ministries. What I have a problem with is when the presentation is totally uncritical. That is, the people who attend this church are always loving. The families they come from -- and other Christians -- are always hateful. There are no complex details.
It starts thus:
Some churches have become inclusive of gays and lesbians, but for transgender people, church can still feel extremely unwelcoming. A congregation in Phoenix is working to change that by focusing on the everyday needs of its members — many of whom are homeless trans youth.
It starts with a free dinner every Sunday night with donated homemade and store-bought dishes.
"There's no shame. There's no judgment. It's here to help. We're about health and wholeness," says the founding pastor, Jeffrey Dirrim, as he points to countless toilet paper rolls on the table for anyone to take. It was toilet paper week. "And you need toilet paper, we've got toilet paper."
The congregation, called Rebel and Divine, has a mission: To reach at-risk youth. It grew out of a Christmas shoe drive years ago and it now serves about 200 attendees a month under the umbrella of the United Church of Christ. The attendees are people in their midteens and mid-20s, gay and lesbian kids, homeless kids, and especially transgender kids — people often unwelcome at other congregations….
There may not be readings from the Bible or the mention of the name Jesus, but there is a reliable, consistent togetherness. Sydney Harrison doesn't identify as male or female, and uses the pronoun "they." Harrison says Rebel and Divine gives them something in their lives they can always count on. Harrison comes here both for basic supplies like toothpaste and for human connection.
Please tell me, someone, what makes this a church? The fact that a UCC pastor is overseeing it? Do they meet in a church?
I searched Rebel and Divine’s site and could not find the answer. The article certainly does not say except for a quote from the minister saying “We’re about health and wholeness.” So what makes this different from a secular community center or a circle of people dedicated to reading and discussing, oh, books on the bestseller list?
And how is sharing a meal with no reference to Christianity during this gathering an “ancient form of Christian worship”? Sure, believers used to meet in homes when they were persecuted but potlucks aren’t necessarily Christian. The Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 11:20-22 castigates those who show up for worship merely to eat.
Little to no information is given about the pastor nor how and when he started the congregation. Is there an official at the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ who can give some context to this group? Is there an explanation for the church’s name? Another oddity is that I could not find any audio matching the story on NPR's site. I did find some video here from KJZZ in Phoenix.
This feels like a story NPR just threw on their site. Which is too bad, because a lot of outlets around the country picked it up.
So many questions. But there are way too few questions for this way-too-short puff piece.
All photos were taken from Rebel and Divine's site.