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Bayshore Community Church

by Gary Hale

Two years ago, my family and 20 others decided to relocate to start a new church called Bayshore Community Church in central California. While we thought we were pretty special, I’ve come to realize we fit quite well in a typical evangelical church plant box. Basically, the formula goes something like this – raise some money, recruit a team, create a business plan, launch, then become the next cool megachurch.

So we did that. Well, everything except becoming cool or mega. I’m unsure of what we’ve become other than a group of people trying to embody love.

Before we started the church, our team served at the Santa Clara County Fair by hosting a table with kids games, prizes, and something all humans want on a hot day – Otter Pops. At one point, a lesbian couple came up to our table and said, “I just have one question for you. Can gay people come to your church?” Talk about a tough question to field. Fortunately, my friend answered with such grace that this turned into a life-giving conversation instead of a debate about who is in and who is out.

A month later, I received an email from a woman who saw a mailer for our church’s grand opening. In short, she expressed that she was married to her partner, had two kids and wanted to know if they were allowed to attend our church. She had been searching for a faith community where she could be welcomed and included. It seemed she still had hope that there could be a church for her.

These two interactions stirred up something in me that I didn’t expect. I couldn’t help but ask: “Why do gay people ask if they can attend a church?” And frankly, why does ANYONE have to ask if they can attend a church? Aren’t we talking about the God of love’s church? These questions are absurd when you really stop to think about it for a moment. I always said I wanted to start a church for those who didn’t fit into religious or Christian circles – or those who identify as the religious “nones”. And I think these interactions helped us to really lean into that piece of our DNA as a community.

From there, it was one thing after another which caused more to happen in me. I’d have these moments where I’d be preaching on a Sunday and I would notice things I’d be saying that I had never noticed before. I’d find myself saying things like “church is a place for everyone” while realizing the western version of Christianity I’d known didn’t really believe or practice that. One by one, my theological frame began to crumble around me and I was left with a lot more questions than answers. And then there was the time at our first church membership class where I was asked a very pointed question: “What is your stance on homosexuality?” I paused. Gathered my thoughts. And said something so very profound,

“I don’t know.”

I was finally able to say where I was at out loud. And boy was that both terrifying and freeing.

You see, handed down to me was a particular theology which is against gay marriage and same-sex relationships. Saying “I don’t know” is the last thing anyone would expect a pastor like me to say. I was a Baptist church pastor which meant if I opened the door to questioning this particular theological stance, I’d be saying goodbye to a lot of things – friends, mentors, partner organizations, and quite possibly our church.

However, if Christians are going to be defined by love, then we have to question and revisit widely held beliefs the church holds which cause the marginalization of others. Love demands this of us. And Jesus exemplified this for us.

For the next year, a group of us wrestled deeply with human sexuality, the Bible, God, love, science – everything. Hell, we’re still wrestling with all of this stuff! And through all of that, I came to a change of mind and heart related to the full inclusion of our LGBTQ friends and community. We announced this to our church on June 12, 2016 and I can honestly say it was the hardest day of my entire career as a pastor. An announcement like this tends to not go well in an evangelical church, let alone a Baptist church! I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone would leave over this and if it meant the end of Bayshore.

But as I reflect, I think I was asking the wrong questions. Rather than asking “Who is going to leave?” or “Is this the end?”, I should have been asking, “What if people stay? What if this is the beginning of something beautiful in our community?”

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had many heartaches since June. People have left. We were “released” from our denomination. We’ve lost thousands of dollars in start-up support. I’ve lost great mentors and friendships. All of the loss has felt a lot like death. We’ve had to die to the version of “us” that we planned for this church to become. While that death is painful, it means something new can rise out of those ashes. Because where there is death, there is also new life.

And so we’re still here. We’re still going. We’re still believing. We’re still hoping that our little community can be a voice for the voiceless and oppressed. We’re still hoping we are a seed sown for something beautiful and redemptive for all people.

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