How I Came to Call this Wonderful Church my New Home
The following is the story of one person’s experience at UCC Simi Valley.
Thank you, Jamie for sharing your story with us!
Welcome To UCC – SimiValley
How I came to call this wonderful church my new home
Hi. My name is Jamie. I’m that little odd ball that just loves to hug people and maybe at times can be just a bit overly affectionate. I do try to tone it down, but if you knew my history I think you’d understand (you can always read my book if you’re interested in how I got to be that way, but really, it’s not important). Amazingly, I don’t seem to have scared anybody off, and what’s more amazing is that I’ve been getting a whole lot of hugs back. Do you have a few minutes? There’s something I’d like to share.
Having been raised Catholic and also having spent much of my adult life searching for answers to this great miracle, this mystery we call life, my education left me with more questions than explanations. What’s more, not only my Catholic upbringing but every Christian group I’d gotten involved with convinced me that I was pretty much doomed to an eternity of torment beyond my imagination, and I can imagine some pretty bad stuff. Damnation seemed to be the only afterlife that someone like me could look forward to. Not what I considered a very bright future. You see, not only was my questioning of this faith bad enough, but my most sincere sense of who I am was sure to be a one-way ticket to that awful place even though this is the way I was created. Oh dear, I just can’t believe that a loving god could be so cruel. A god that had had an eternity to figure things out expected me with my limited abilities to spend maybe 80 years searching for answers then put all of my chips on a single number on some cosmic roulette wheel, bet the farm on my answer and hope for the best. The picture of an evil Santa Clause that watched you go to the bathroom was the image that I had in my mind. There just had to be more to the story, more to this life and afterlife than I’d been told.
So I searched and studied and at some point discovered the Buddhist philosophy which actually blended well with my basic Christian faith. Now I just needed to find others to worship with and grow spiritually while also having teachers to guide my intellectual understanding. Both are important.
I was discovering many churches that claimed all are loved, all are welcome. Typically the ministers and others in the group were very happy to see my enthusiasm and encouraged me to attend things like Bible study which I was all too happy to do. Unfortunately when I started asking questions they would quickly become annoyed. I said things like maybe Judas wasn’t really such a bad guy, he was after all very good pals with the one they called rabbi or savior. Since it was known even before Judas was born what he would do and since he was the rabbi’s best friend, maybe – just maybe, Judas was in on a secret, the secret was a
clandestine plan to get this rabbi arrested and fulfill prophesy. Judas had no idea of the full consequences but being a loyal friend went along with it. You know the rest of that story. I also questioned things like when Jesus went alone into the dessert, the story is that he was tempted by the devil. My issue was that if Jesus was alone and didn’t really share these experiences, who was there to tell the story? There were these and many more questions I had, and that wasn’t even getting to the big stuff yet. I would see stones being put on a pile near my car or maybe WD-40 being sprayed on what looked like thumb screws and decided it was best not to return.
On I went searching for answers to questions nobody seemed to have the answers to. I would hear or read terrible stories of gays, lesbians, or transgenders being ostracized and/or humiliated never to be allowed to say that this is the flower I was meant to be and perhaps there was a wonderful creator that just loved all of the infinite number of permutations and combinations being manifested – like a great artist painting a beautiful universe or maybe a composer inventing new notes to be played in the most exquisite symphony of life. No, this heresy would not be tolerated in their church – no way was that going to happen.
Then I heard about a church that supposedly really was open to everyone. We’ll see about that! I had some time on a Sunday morning so I decided to check this place out, UCC – Simi Valley was the name. Sounds pretty conservative to me, but what the heck, I’ll give them a chance.
I walked in and was warmly greeted and given a folder with information and a pot holder, pretty nice. I’d recognized this guy that was greeting people from the FFLUID meeting I’d attended, hmm. He remembered me too and seemed genuinely happy that I stopped in. Could there really be some truth to the line that everyone was welcome? All of the folks I was meeting did seem very friendly and all, but I’d been fooled before. I might be some small town kid from the Midwest and I may be some dumb but I’m not plumb dumb, they’ll have to do much better than that to convince me.
Okay, sitting down in the back row near the door just in case this was some kind of a trap, I relaxed a little as the service began. A well-dressed gentleman stood up in front of the congregation, he appeared rather conservative and could easily fit the part of a preacher. He seemed to have a kind way about himself and started the service saying, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” I was becoming rather moved but quickly caught myself, I’d heard lines like this before and it’ll take more than talk to convince me, past experience had taught me to be skeptical, still one should always keep an open mind. Everyone seemed genuinely nice and I’d heard someone say something about cookies and coffee after the service. I wonder if they’ll have chocolate chip, ooooo, I love cookies.
Okay, I got through the service and really enjoyed it. In fact, that guy that I’d met at the FFLUID meeting was some kind of somebody that preached here. He was quite funny and very intelligent. My gosh, during his sermon (or whatever it’s called) he told a story about an experience he’d had as a gay man and explained how it related to faith. Not a rotten tomato was hurled at him. He wasn’t escorted out of the church. Maybe there is something about this place being open – but they hadn’t met the whole me yet.
I liked the service and stuck around, bribe me with a cookie and I’m helpless to resist. Oh and there were chocolate brownies! Well this is looking pretty good so far. I decided to get to know a few folks a little better. Now it’s time to see what this place is really about.
I started with the main guy that did most of the service, the guy that looked like he could be a preacher. “So you accept anybody, huh? Well I have a rather quirky view of Christianity, it’s kind of my own brand. I call it Zen – Christianity.” Without batting an eye he replied, “Yes, I have some rather quirky views too. Here at our church we use the Bible for guidance, not as hard fact.” I think my lips were moving but no words were coming out. That was too easy, time for the big guns.
There were a man and woman speaking to a few other people, I think the woman was the one playing the piano at the service, it was rather nice to hear something other than the standard revival rock bands I’d heard at other churches, this was actually rather soothing and I guess you’d say contemplative and I liked it. I walked up to the little group and started talking, they asked my name. I told them my preferred name is Jamie and that was what I like to be called. That’s easy enough, it is a rather androgynous name after all, but I had to find out if I could really be myself, gay is one thing but… here goes. After a bit more conversation I announced that I’m transgender and had just recently started hormone replacement therapy, actually for the second time now. I went on to explain that when I left Wisconsin I was living in my preferred gender as female. There wasn’t even an uncomfortable moment of silence. Someone asked, “Oh maybe you know some of our other members…” What? I’m not the first? This can’t be happening, maybe they didn’t hear me correctly. After a brief pause and allowing the conversation to move on a bit, I tried again, “yes, I’m male to female transgender. I’ve only been back on hormones for a couple of weeks now, but give it time. It’s a rather slow process.” Okay now there was no doubt they heard it. I wondered what the reaction would be. Here it comes, “Do you like gardening? If you decide to come back maybe you’d like to help in the garden.” I was taken aback! No big surprise or uncomfortable silence. No comments like, “That’s fine but keep it too yourself. Don’t start coming here wearing makeup and blah blah blah.”
The conversation went on from there. I was really getting to like this place. Not a single demand that I be baptized. No groups forming to pray for my blackened soul. Could it really be that I’d found a place of worship that actually does want to join together to experience the spirit in higher realms? Well you know I had to be certain, this could after all be some sort of once a year thing they do to lure in unsuspecting folks like me then in one Ninja-like move throw the net of so-called salvation over me and demand I repent. I would have to come back to find out. But I really think I’m going to like this place.
Well I had to be just a little tongue in cheek at times to keep things moving, I also had to ad lib a bit and take some liberties with the facts but it is all based on a very true story which is my experience here at UCC – Simi Valley. A story still unfolding since I did come back and have kept on coming back because of the wonderful people I’m meeting along with enjoying new friendships and activities. I never thought I’d find a church with folks like you all, or I really should say, all of us. I know I do tend to ramble on at times but I really can’t get over what a wonderful experience this is even as I have settled into to a regular routine of worship and socializing. Well I look forward to many good times ahead. Hugs and blessing to all.