Growing up in church, I had become accustomed to the cookie-cutter services without much variation. But this past Sunday, my program director, Bill, and I experienced a church service unlike any we have witnessed before. We decided to co-write this piece because we wanted to share the service’s original take on sharing the gospel.
This was amazing. The regular minister, Alan Storey, Peter’s son, is on leave. The assistant pastor, a woman who plays the guitar and sings each Sunday, was doing her usual fantastic job. The congregation was singing along with her, raising their hands and arms in celebration.
Then we learned that instead of a sermon, we would witness an interview between Selina Palm, a social justice faculty member, and the assistant pastor, Nicole.
Nicole is a gay woman, and, as Selina asked her questions, she told her story. From the time she was three, she resisted wearing pink dresses and acting feminine. By the time she was 18 she knew she was gay, and her mother told her, I know you “like girls.”
But she was a devout Methodist and felt the presence of God when she worshipped. She became an assistant pastor at a local church. But then, when she was in her mid-twenties, she “came out” and was fired from the church where she was the assistant pastor. She became a waitress, and while not giving up her faith, stopped singing and playing the guitar.
While she was waitressing, she received an email, on her birthday, from close friends telling her that though she was always welcome in their home, her future partners would never be allowed in the household. She mentioned this because that morning of service, she had received a voice mail from the friend to kindly not mention that email in her interview. However, the voice mail missed an essential piece: an apology for the email and its contents. Nicole intentionally added this because she wanted the whole truth to be told.
It was at that point that a woman friend of hers asked that she come and play and sing at the Central Methodist Mission on the occasion of her friend being ordained as a pastor. After resisting mightily, Nicole finally said yes.
After she had played and sung at her friend’s ordination, Alan Storey told her friend that he must hire Nicole as his assistant. He gave her his phone number and the next day she called. She agreed to become Alan’s assistant minister and ever since has been singing and playing at the church.
Today, she ended by singing a beautiful song about God’s presence. Virtually the entire congregation was in tears. We had all experienced the impact of her life story, and the power of Jesus as Nicole’s best friend. It was a stunning, a beautiful, and transformative experience. You could feel the love reverberating throughout the room.
Bill says this of his experience:
“We‘ve just come from a service at Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town that was the most emotional and powerful religious experience I have been part of since I was 16 years old at the Ocean Park Temple in Maine where we sang “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and I felt overwhelmed by the presence of God.”
Zara says this of her experience:
“Throughout our time in South Africa, I have been reminded of the power in storytelling. We have heard and read narratives from the Voortrekker Museum, Freedom Park, the Apartheid Museum, and Liliesleaf to name a few. Accompanying each one is a new insight into South Africa’s narrative. It was a privilege to listen to Nicole’s story and add hers to my mental depository of incredible narratives.”