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Birth of a Revival {UPDATE}

Holy, holy, holy: Austin's working on a queer church

By Lawrence Everett Forbes, 11:00AM, Wed. Jan. 22

Birth of a Revival {UPDATE}

Religion has always been a thorny subject for LGBTQ. Many of us have abandoned the church. William Heath, aka Brother Bear, aims to change that with Queer Church Revival. The nondenominational collective focuses less on dogma and more on creating a safe space for queer spirituality to blossom.

"I just felt really empty," said Heath when asked why he started the group. "I have a million friends here and I can go out and say, 'Hey, hey, hey!' But it doesn't go any further. I just wanted a deeper connection."

The service I attended this weekend was a dress rehearsal for the inaugural service, which takes place in February. It began with a trio on stage playing the guitar, accordion, and conga, as the parishioners filed in and made themselves comfortable with their neighbors. During the musical interlude, Heath contracted an altar-like space at the foot of the stage, filling it with relics from his performance work that ranged from candles and red paper hearts to a "Heart Throb Prom" banner and red solo cups. This was followed by a guided meditation designed to open us up to the space and the messages to come.

The exercise seemed to work; the energy in the room was clear, settled, and ready for the chorus, who treated us to an earnest version of Jeff Buckley's rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Heath's nerves got the best of him — public speaking terrifies him — during the song: He changed clothes often and nervously before settling into a full-length Navy double-breasted coat with fur collars and his underwear.

With the song finished, he stepped off the stage and into the middle of the semicircle of parishioner chairs. There, the son of a theology and psychology major sat on the bare floor to address the group. Instead of offering a sermon, he opted for a more confessional mode of communication, touching on his creative history in Austin, his family life, experiences with religion, his social personae, and hopes for QCR.

This created an intimacy that made it easier for group introductions, where we each shared our names and hopes for Queer Church Revival. Many of the answers contained similar desires; a hunger for community; a queer context outside of the bars and entertainment; a spiritual connection; and a way to combat loneliness.

Our spiritual selves bared, it was chorus time once again. This time, they treated us to Dolly Parton's "Better Get to Livin'," a performance in honor of her 68th birthday. Not only was a great tribute; it hit all the right celebratory notes.

And with that, the service was over, and the potluck began. Interesting to note that of the 33 attendees, the gay men (self included) seemed to be in the minority, with an exuberant representation of the other letters in the LGBTQ continuum present. The varied group came together as they spoke of their excitement about the church, its future, and Heath.*

Heath's ministry extends beyond church service. "If you feel empty, there's a phone number (512/524-0990), and like, we'll figure it out… You need to feel safe, fed. You need the basics, before you can go higher."

Queer Church Revival's first official service begins in late February, and is hosted by the queer-friendly people at The Romani Gallery.

*EDITOR'S NOTE: The copy in this paragraph, as originally posted 3:45PM, Mon. Jan. 20, has been edited. I (Kate) neglected to question Lawrence's assertion of the breakdown of the folks in attendance. I am very sorry for this error in judgement and follow through. Lawrence is a peach and a sweet gentleman. Many of The Gay Place Online Daily bloggers are interns, and it is my responsibility and desire to offer to them a thorough education. I am sorry I let Lawrence and friends across the spectrum down. Thank you for your patience with us, and thank you for reading.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I was contacted by a transperson who was at Sunday's Queer Church Revival and taken to task on my breakdown of the crowd. The error was mine: the heterosexuals in the group identified themselves as such, and the rest was based on my own myopic observations. [The current edit more clearly reflects the intention of the breakdown.]

I sincerely apologize for making incorrect assumptions on gender and sexuality. The apology extends to the entire LGBTQ community. As a queer person of color, I should have been more sensitive to the many subtle colors in our queer rainbow and clearly have a lot to learn. I don't care for stereotyping myself and am sorry to have inflicted that behavior on others.

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