Coming out … Christian
The Light of the Soul Christian Ministry accepts anyone who puts Christ first
It’s Friday evening, and the rush-hour traffic is slowing down. Time for the weekend, time for fun and relaxation. A quick bite to eat and it’s out to … church? A new, contemporary Christian group has been holding a “happy hour” inside Reno First Congregational Church (RFCC).
Light of the Soul Christian Ministries (LSCM) was incorporated as a registered, non-denominational Christian church in Nevada on Aug. 23, 2004. Eight local residents, dissatisfied with their worship options, came together to start their own church. Frustrated with the separatism and elitism of many mainstream Christian groups, LSCM founders have set upon a new path that welcomes anyone.
RFCC is dominated by an immense but simple wooden cross above the altar. The high, sloping, plaster ceiling gives a sense of expansiveness and openness. People entering singly, in pairs or families are warmly greeted at the front door by the Rev. Denise Cordova and minister Mike Stombaugh. This night, the weather has kept some people away, and most of the 15 people in the room are regular LSCM congregation members. Smiling and enthusiastic, the dark-haired Cordova is encouraged by the steadily increasing membership of LSCM.
She says, “There are a lot of people in our community who come from Christian backgrounds and really miss having a comfortable church to go to worship Jesus.”
Comfortable isn’t always a word used to describe church. In many Christian churches or congregations, the violation of some rules or commandments can be enough to get the rumor mill started—even though the same churches tell us we are all sinners. In the past, adultery and divorce were the biggies. These days, homosexuality and abortions have become hot topics of debate. LSCM came together under the idea that no one would be excluded.
LSCM’s council of ministers consists of Cordova, Nancy Barnhart, Lori Fry, Rhonda Hanson, Teresa Long, Rick Spagnola, Mike Stombaugh and Tammy Tomaso. The council members do double and triple duty as scripture readers, sermonizers, singers, musicians and acolytes. For them, worshiping is a kind of serving. They’re helping others to find Christ again—or for the first time. It’s often a struggle.
Fry, a short, blond mother of two, was raised Catholic and grew up believing in her Christian faith. After she moved to Reno in 1993, two Catholic churches asked her to leave once her lesbian lifestyle was made known. In her eyes, that kind of ostracism goes against the whole idea of Christianity.
Fry says, “I don’t think people should be shunned, whether it’s at Catholic or other services. People shouldn’t be pushed away from Jesus.”
However, Christians aren’t the only ones who judge. LSCM members also relate the same cold shoulder when they “out” themselves as Christians to homosexual individuals or groups. Hanson, formerly a worship leader for another church, says that it really puts a person in a lonely place.
Hanson says, “It’s double jeopardy. Normal gay groups, normal Christian groups, they both throw you out when they find out the other.”
Group members say LSCM services create an atmosphere where they can express their joy in being able to worship, despite the obstacles of acceptance.
Contemporary music plays a large part in the services, including adaptations of pop songs like “I’m a Believer” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” The music ministers are animated, and they have fun. Fry’s strong alto is complemented by Long’s enthusiastic soprano backing.
The lively music, open atmosphere between the ministers and the congregation and the freedom to be oneself all contribute to this newfound comfort level.
Cordova’s sermons are passionate and almost Socratic. She explains the day’s reading, then poses the information back to the congregation in terms of a situation from the present. Cordova often returns to one of her central themes, that God loves and accepts people, however they choose to live, because He created them. The congregation, responsive and interested, answers with heartfelt amens and praise Jesuses.
The room is expansive, but the atmosphere is very intimate. After Communion, LSCM has a casual juice-and-cookie time, where the congregation and the ministers can interact in a personal setting.
For LSCM, the truth is simple. Its mission statement: “To seek, uphold, and broadcast the genuine intention of the Christ by empowering through education, igniting spiritual liberation, and breaking down the walls of separation.”
One of Cordova’s recent sermons brought up the subject of the “God Is Still Speaking” TV commercial by the United Church of Christ. The advertisement depicts the front of a church, with bouncers behind a velvet rope dictating who is and isn’t allowed to come in to worship. Average men and women are shown being rejected. There are people of all races, a person in a wheelchair and an apparently homosexual couple. CBS and NBC have chosen not to run this commercial, saying it would be too controversial for their audiences.
Cordova points out an error in this logic: “To me, the most egregious thing is that on NBC, there’s Will & Grace, a show that depicts homosexuality as something silly and not serious, and that’s OK. But it’s not OK to proclaim that Jesus loves all of us?”
LSCM began with weekly services and a contemporary choir, and it hopes to grow into a collection of ministries (services or outreaches performed by a church) that serve the local populace, Christian or not. The immediate goals are to begin a regular Bible-study program and to add on additional weekly services. Further out, the church aims to develop elderly outreach and community music programs.
LSCM is not a church that caters only to the spiritual needs of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community; it caters to all Christians, regardless of sexual orientation. Many heterosexuals also regularly attend LSCM services because church isn’t about sexual practices but about loving God and praising Jesus. Members come from a wide variety of backgrounds—Catholic, charismatic, agnostic, housecleaner, teacher, public health worker, environmentalist—and serve Jesus through their church in a variety of ways, as musician, treasurer or pastor.
Another focus is education: Hypocrisy and judgment and condemnation aren’t part of “the good news.” Council member Spagnola, raised in a religiously ambivalent environment, came to terms with his homosexuality at an early age and was bluntly told by a youth group minister that a gay person could never go to heaven. That experience just served to turn him against religion. However, in trying to refute Christians, he sat down and read the Bible, cover to cover. He found something he never expected.
“Here was this person trying to bring down this evil religious establishment that set a bunch of rules between people and God," Spagnola says. "You could have knocked me over with a feather. It really was ‘good news.' And if people were more educated about what Jesus said, it would be good news, the good news that we don’t have to tell people they have to police their lives perfectly. Because we trust in God’s actual presence, like he’s really a player in it all."