Recently, the Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage and Yours Truly were invited to go back to a church in Pennsylvania we started and celebrate the 25th anniversary of that church. It was hard for me to imagine that 25 years had passed since starting that church. But, the church secretary sent us an invitation and church secretaries are never wrong.
We thoroughly enjoyed meeting old friends and just seeing how they have been getting along since our departure. I’m glad to say our departure from that congregation in no way compromised the health and well-being of that congregation.
One of the most memorable incidences happened the first year of the church. They just showed up on Sunday morning without any warning. The oldest one’s name was Mary Ellen and I forget who her friend was. Mary Ellen introduced herself to me and said something rather strange. “I used to be my children’s father.” Being just a simple country preacher I had no idea what she was talking about, but I later discovered exactly what she was talking about. Mary Ellen was a transsexual and had gone through gender reassignment surgery.
I try not to be judgmental, but I couldn’t help observing that these were two of the ugliest women I had ever seen. Our dilemma was what do we do with them? What are they? Are they shes? Or are they hes? Out of confusion, I simply referred to them as shims, and called them shimites.
Not knowing what to do or how to handle this kind of a situation I sought counsel. I knew a man who was a representative of the Clyde Narramore foundation. I figured if anybody knew anything about this sort of thing, he should. After finishing explaining to him my situation he paused for a moment, then he gave me his expert advice. “Boy, I’m glad I’m not in your shoes.” What my footwear had to do with the situation still baffles me, but I had a flashing thought of where to put my shoe.
I next called a denominational executive. I thought he would be able to help me maneuver through this situation. His advice was, “Listen, you’re a young church and you are very vulnerable at this time. Tell them they’re not welcome in the church and that they should not return.”
My thought: if someone is not welcome in our church then neither am I.
I decided to tackle this problem the best I knew how. I took one of the young men from the church to visit these two people. While there, I explained to them what our situation was and what we thought the Bible said about this. I told them that they were more than welcome to come to our church. But they deserve to know what we believed. I went on to explain to them that we could not address them as women, but would refer to them as Sir or Mr.
Up to now, both had been rather serene and calm. The one who went by the name Mary Ellen seemed rather upset about this bit of information. She brought out documentation from the government attesting to the fact that he was now a she. Then she laid a strange piece of information on me. And it was my turn to be a little upset. As it turned out, she, when she was a he, was a boxer in the Navy. From the looks of it, he must have lost many fights.
“Preacher, my friend and I are coming to church Sunday and if anyone refers to me or my friend as Sir or Mr., I’m going to start punching the closest one to me. And preacher, I hope you’re close to me.” I did not share her hopes and dreams.
That was Saturday morning. Saturday night the core group got together for a time of prayer. We had a wonderful time of prayer and worship and everybody had the sense that God was in control of everything.
Sunday morning came. The congregation gathered and I was standing next to an usher who said to me, “Pastor, I don’t think they’re going to come to church today.” He no sooner got those words out of his mouth and who should walk in but our two Shimites dressed to kill. They greeted me and then sat in the front row within a few feet of the pulpit. I still remember my sermon for that Sunday. I was preaching through the book of Ephesians and had come to that passage that says, “Put off the old man.” He had put off the old man, all right, but he put on the old woman. I determined to run the service as we normally did and just leave everything in God’s hands. Nothing happened. Our two friends sat quietly in the front row and listened intently to the sermon. After the service, they shook my hand and said, “That was a wonderful service, pastor.” They left and we never saw them again.
A verse of Scripture came to my mind at the time. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 KJV).
The church is not to keep people out, but to be the very door to heaven to everyone if possible.
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James, I read this, I have to admit, feeling God was in control, and you preached what He had laid on your heart. You did not agree with those two for what they had done, but neither did you point fingers. You just obeyed the Father, put your trust in Him, and He took care of the rest. They may have come looking for a fight, but you turned them over to God, Who wins every time. God bless. Thomas