Last Monday I was at a memorial service for a brother I never met.
He was a Deacon in my church. His name is Bill Alsworth. He was part of the family of God at Stony Point Presbyterian Church for eight years, and served as a Deacon faithfully for many of those years.
He died of Leukemia, which had rendered him bedridden for the last months of his life.
While he was sick, he had so many visitors from Stony Point that the staff at the hospice care facility thought he was famous!
Really, he wasn't known by anyone outside of Stony Point. He literally had no biological family.
I'm sorry that I didn't get to meet him. The description of him at the memorial service from all of the members of Stony Point made it clear that he was a man who was well loved, and who loved others.
Bill was loved and welcomed by the church the first time that he came. He wrote about it in his journal, and a portion was read in the memorial service. He wrote about how the members of the church welcomed him with open arms, even though he was just-released from a 38-year-long prison sentence.
It was clear from his journal that he didn't expect to be received and welcomed by anyone who knew about his background. He didn't think that the church would see him as the renewed and redeemed man that he was. That wasn't true. The church received him with love.
Every person who spoke about Bill spoke about his generosity. They spoke about his kindness. They shared about his eagerness to help. No one talked about how great he was, or how wise, or how gifted. They only spoke about his relationships. It was the relationship with his brothers and sisters that they remember and that they were so glad to have had.
Bill was a brother. He was loved as a brother.
It didn't matter that Bill didn't have a biological family to care for him at the end, the family of the church took care of him, visited him, and loved him to the end. Bill was not alone. Bill was part of the most important family that exists.
The service for Bill was so beautiful. I left the service with so much joy and peace, knowing that God has welcomed Bill into the eternal peace of the Father. I was also deeply touched, because I saw myself in the stories told about Bill.
When I started attending Stony Point I was worried about how I would be received, since I shared my testimony publicly about having same-sex sexual attractions. I worried that perhaps some of the men in the church would be uncomfortable about sitting next to me. I worried that perhaps I would have difficulty in my relationships with my church family because the same-sex attraction would be a distraction.
I was wrong.
The men and women of Stony Point have welcomed me with open arms, and heartfelt prayers. I was invited to join a men's small group the first day I was in the church. I was asked by six different men to attend the Men's Retreat with them (which I did three weeks ago). I was eagerly invited to join the men's softball team (which I also did, and have greatly enjoyed playing on the team). I've been invited to lunch more than a dozen times. I've had friends from church over to enjoy dinner at my apartment. In short, I've been welcomed as a brother.
One man heard about my struggle the first day he met me. It had come up in the Wednesday night Bible study class discussion. He chased me down in the Sanctuary the next Sunday to tell me, "You are my brother. I don't want you to ever think you have to apologize for what you struggle with."
Another man returned from a months-long trip to the Netherlands and rejoined the men's small group I am a part of. The first day he was back I was already planning to share part of my story and a prayer request for a particular element of it. This man, having just met me, prayed for me that night. He prayed that "Sean would know that he is a beloved son, who has no need to be ashamed."
While yet another brother-in-Christ was driving me home from the same small group, he told me, "We are all here for you, Sean. We want to help you, and will help you in any way we know how." He said this with great emotion, wishing that he could do something to ease my burden and help me along.
This outpouring of love, support, and concern has been an answer to years of prayer. The family that I have found in this church is the family God has prepared for me. I have prayed for many years that I would be surrounded with godly men who would show this kind of love and concern for me. And God has answered my prayers.
God has given me such a blessing in Stony Point church.
After the Memorial Service for Bill, I made a comment to another man in the church about how exceptional Stony Point is. He responded, "Perhaps it is, but it shouldn't be."
He's right. Men like Bill, men like me, all those who have been saved by the grace of God, should be welcomed as family in every church.
It is an honor to be in a church family that does this well. If yours does not, I hope you can set an example to all the others in your openness and generosity. Let your light shine, that they may see your good deeds and give glory to our Father by doing the same.