17 Jun Why Our Kids Still Need Church – A Proud Bisexual Pastor’s Perspective
Many kids and teens today aren’t sure they want to be involved with Christianity anymore.
I can’t say I blame them. After all, a lot of them are hesitant because of stories like mine.
You see, today I openly and proudly identify as bisexual. I love my role as Associate Pastor of Children, Family and Youth here at Winnetka Congregational Church. I have a lot of questions about who God is. A lot of doubts. And a whole-hearted acceptance of those questions, my doubts, my faith, AND… my identity.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
I didn’t grow up in a church community, affirming or otherwise. My father was originally a Roman Catholic, and my mother was Lutheran. When it came time for me to be baptized, they couldn’t agree on which tradition to bring me up in, so they compromised by not baptizing me at all. The times we went to church were few and far between, mostly the usual Christian holidays. I didn’t really have any concept of faith until I was invited to youth group my freshman year of high school.
The church I was baptized into at 17 had sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” posture. But when pressed, they were firmly against LGBTQ+ identity. So, for the first years of my faith journey, I had the perspective that out and proud LGBTQ+ individuals were not living their lives the way God intended. Then, in my first year in college, I started my religious education. Over the next several years, kind and wise mentors opened my eyes to new ways to read the Bible and define my faith. They ignited my passion for biblical scholarship, and I continued into seminary.
And seminary? Well, let’s just say seminary has a wonderful way of requiring you to wrestle with yourself.
The more I learned, the more affirming of the LGBTQ+ community – and of my own bisexuality – I became. It wasn’t all joyful. It took a lot of time and effort and prayer and spiritual reconciliation. Along with my new acceptance came the realization that I didn’t get the chance to fully experience myself growing up. I had an entire section of my identity that was essentially stolen from me. It’s the sort of loss you only recognize in hindsight, and the kind of loss you can never really repair.
It’s the kind of loss I want to make sure the next generation of kids in the church never needs to experience.
Many of our youth are profoundly uncertain whether or not they want to be associated with the Christian faith anymore. They’ve witnessed the damage that many people who call themselves Christian have caused the world for the last several years and, really, for centuries. They’ve watched others suffer losses of time, self, and experience just like I did. And what they see doesn’t look like the kind of community they really want to join.
That hesitation makes sense. I don’t want to be part of that kind of Christianity either. I left it. So why am I still here, in the Church, as a pastor and leader to young people? Why do I think Church still has value for today’s kids?
Folks outside the LGBTQ+ community tend to forget, or don’t even know, that the first PRIDE parade was a riot. Stonewall was about fighting for your place in the world and understanding that no mortal person can tell you are wrong for identifying as the person that God created you to be. I accepted the Call to Winnetka Congregational Church to join them in affirming this critical and life-saving message. And to ensure a space — WITHIN a church community — for kids to be safe to question, doubt, and explore. To remind them that they are free to be the person God created them to be, even when there are lots of other voices trying to tell them that they aren’t.
I can remember one moment in particular when I really came to affirm my identity in my faith.
In one of my final classes in seminary, we had an assignment called “A Letter From God.” It was an interesting kind of spiritual practice. We were essentially writing a letter to ourselves from God’s perspective. And it was such a profound experience for me because I just kind of… let go.
I let go of any agenda I had for the letter. I didn’t even really feel like I was the one doing the typing. It felt like a re-establishment of my connection with God, like a one-on-one conversation with the One who made me. And that Maker wanted me to know that I was intended to be exactly who I am.
That letter helped set the tone for the way I look at ministry. I picture Jesus when he first came to the temple in Jerusalem. Where he walked in, saw what was going on: the exploitation of the people in Jerusalem by the people who were supposed to be leading them to God. And He turned over the tables. That’s what it is for me. To understand, and to help our kids understand, that if we see something wrong in the world, we have the ability to go out and change it. We can turn over tables to make space for others to connect to God, and to know their Maker affirms them exactly as they are.
The last six years or so have been a rollercoaster of twists and turns, watching the powers of evil continually gain a foothold in the world. Our kids are processing horrors like Buffalo and Uvalde, and we’re all struggling to find God in the midst of tragedy. Where is God in any of this? I don’t have easy answers to these impossible questions. But I do know that kids don’t have to ask them alone… and that, so often, they help the adults to ask them to begin with.
Many kids today are rightfully skeptical of what some “Christian” voices are saying. But when they come here — to Winnetka Congregational Church — they’re coming to a place that encourages them to be themselves. A space that actively encourages questions. A place where it’s safe to doubt, to hesitate, to push back. A place where even though the path of their faith is personal, they’ll have a church that’s always and compassionately behind them. A place where we’ll walk through it all right alongside them. A place where we’ll walk together. A place where we’ll respect the countless ways that our YOUTH can lead US!
I think our kids still need that kind of support and that kind of respect. In fact, I think they need it now more than ever.
Want to read more from Tyler? Check out “A Letter From God – For Kids Dealing With Our Scary World” here.
Pastor Tyler Yost is the Associate Pastor of Children, Family and Youth at Winnetka Congregational church, , a progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive, justice-oriented and family-friendly church on the north side of Chicago. His calling is to help everyone he meets feel accepted and loved by God for who they really are, just as they are. Tyler and his wife Kylie have two cats, Kiara, and Amethyst – he will happily share photos.