This time of year isn’t easy for everyone. When the Christmas decorations start going up, when holiday music begins to play on the radio and folks start traveling to visit family, a lot of people feel left behind. Sometimes, it’s because they have been cut off from their own families — a common and heartbreaking reality for many members of the LGBTQ community. Sometimes, the loneliness creeps in because Christmas, even as commercialized as it has become, will always be a religious holiday. For people who no longer feel welcome by the religion of their youth, the holiday season is just a reminder of what they’ve lost.
This is especially true for queer people, who have faced discrimination from a good number of established religious institutions. Though it isn’t always the case, many members of the LGBTQ community who grew up religious have either been forced to leave their faith communities, or have left for their own sanity, and those who remain often have to reconcile faith with sexuality.
It is for this reason that Mallory Everhart, a pastor (and former Queer & There contributor), founded Finding Home: A Community for Spiritual Outsiders nearly one year ago. The LGBTQ-affirming group, which used to meet every Friday night and now meets on Sundays, may meet at Vista Grande Community Church, where Everhart works, but she stresses that Finding Home isn’t tied to any one religion, nor is it some kind of ploy to get people in the pews.
“I think people think it’s a creepy cult,” Everhart laughs, “Or [they think] like, I’m actually trying to get you to join the church, or I’m going to welcome you and then the hammer is going to come down. Because so many, especially queer people, have experienced that in the church, specifically where they’ll say bullshit like ‘all are welcome.’ And then comes the asterisk or then comes the caveat. Like ‘You’re welcome, and we’ll take your money, but you can’t be in leadership.’ Or ‘We don’t want you to be around our kids, you’ll corrupt them.’”
But she stresses that when Finding Home says “all are welcome,” it’s genuine. No asterisk. No caveat. No hammer. [pullquote-1] In fact, “a huge value set of Finding Home is accessibility,” Everhart says. She chose to host the group in a free, public space, easily accessed by public transportation. Each meeting, she cooks a vegan, gluten-free meal so nearly everyone can take part in it. And when it comes to the format of the event, Everhart keeps things fluid.
“A lot of good connection just happens over the food,” she says. “So sometimes, depending on the weekend, depending on how many people show up, we might not ever make it past the dinner table.”
But she’s always prepared for a full evening of spiritual exploration. Each week, Everhart picks out a passage of poetry, and guides a series of meditations on its meaning. “We read the poem four different times, and then you meditate with it from kind of a different perspective each of the times. And then we have a conversation ... but we’re reading it in this very particular way and conversing about it from our own perspectives and the ways that the poem is hitting us spiritually.”
The poets, she adds, come from all kinds of different faith backgrounds — this isn’t a Bible study, but a cultural-spiritual exploration. “The reasons I do Finding Home are very Christian,” she says, “but the space I hold is not.”
Finding Home is meant to be a place where people can come together to discuss the religious traumas they’ve faced, or their desire to return to their spiritual roots. Folks of all faiths are invited to attend — including those who don’t consider themselves religious at all.
“We’re walking together because we want to find home,” Everhart says. “Your home is not my home, but we can help each other on the journey.”