This is a continuation of my blog series, “7 Stages of Coming Out.” It’s been a while, can you believe?! If you haven’t read the previous parts, you can read them here, here, and here. Or not. Depends on your free will — Calvinistic, Armenian, or otherwise.
5. Coming Out to My Church Small Group
” . . . The past few months of being in this group have been amazing. Seeing how this community is growing and doing life together, with each person having genuine care for each other . . .
But I wanted to tell you something. In case it’s not obvious to you yet, I’m gay. So I understand if you wouldn’t want to be friends with me anymore. And that’s okay . . . “
In a bizarre attempt to deal with my fear of rejection, I sent this self-sabotaging coming out message to my church “small group” (with quotes because it wasn’t that small of a group). I sent it around 2 in the morning, without warning, to a WhatsApp group chat of about 80 people.
I’d spent a long time laboriously looking for a community to belong, and I’d finally found one. With this new community, though, came a growing fear — the fear of eventually being rejected.
If they knew me, like really knew me, would they still want to be friends with me or even associate with me at all?
If these people were to reject me for my sexuality, I thought, it would be better to experience that rejection now by just ripping off the bandage rather than going deeper into relationships that would only be taken away later.
I’d waited almost one and a half years to find a community like this, and I wouldn’t waste any more time.
A New Hope
My first couple of months after moving to London were incredible. I felt like I was reborn into this brand new world. It was my first time experiencing the season of spring, and I felt like nature was joining me in this rebirth.
Each night after work, with daylight extending longer and longer, I visited iconic London landmarks or huge parks and just basked in everything: flowers blooming, green leaves sprouting from empty branches, and birds singing everywhere.
The darkness of winter was over. Literally and figuratively.
Then summer came, and I started checking off places on my European travel bucket list. I took my first trip to Paris on one of the warmest days of the year, and I learned that almost every attraction was free for me — especially same-sex attraction, of course!
As a 21-year-old living in Europe, I could just walk into places like the Louvre, the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Palace of Versailles, all free of charge!
I literally felt so free. Like I could do anything and everything I wanted.
The Ennui Strikes Back
When autumn and winter came, the hope built up all year started fizzling out. Personal excitement from all of these new things faded. As the leaves flew away from branches, so did my elation for things. Transitioning into this new season uncovered my real needs and exposed my placing hope in the wrong things.
I was lonely, I needed human connection, and the distraction of all these travels and activities wasn’t working anymore.
It also wasn’t practical to keep turning to travel for another high (although the cycle still inadvertently pops out every year — but that’s another story).
So, I turned to the only place where I knew to get social connection as an introverted socially awkward nerd — church. I started joining multiple church groups and went to more church activities. At one point, I was at a church gathering almost every night of the week.
I did extra volunteering, spending the whole of every Sunday at my church’s various campus locations. I left my house at 5:30 AM to volunteer in the morning services for one location, then travel to another location in the afternoon to serve again.
I was hungry. I needed community. I was desperate for friends.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m committing to these Star Wars headers, okay.
Even with everything on my schedule, I still found it hard to find a community where I felt like I fit in: a community I could call home, do life with, and be vulnerable with.
After a year and a half, I probably went to five to six different church groups. I say five to six, because I don’t even know if one of them was an actual church group or just a young adults dating pool.
I went to one group where people just stared at each other, reading the Bible study material and answering one-liners.
I went to another one that had really good, deep discussions, but the people there didn’t seem to want any friendship outside of group time.
I went to yet another one where I gained a lot of wisdom, but everyone there was twenty years older than me and only talked about their children or their mortgages.
And, of course, I went to that stereotypical young adults group where people only came to flirt and convert — though that group didn’t last long.
The Return of the Joy
I was normally stationed at the balcony area of my church whilst volunteering at a service, and every Sunday I watched this certain group of peculiar people below.
They always came early and occupied two to three rows, front and centre. They were different from the rest of the congregation; they looked like they really enjoyed each other’s company.
They didn’t just sit still in their chairs and wait for the service to start; they moved around and chit-chatted with everyone. They screamed in joy whenever someone from their group arrived, with each person giving the new arrival a big hug. They stayed and socialised after the service, too, dancing and singing their own songs whilst everyone else flocked to exit the building.
They were weird. But I was curious, and the hunger for that kind of community grew more in me.
I want to say that I simply approached them one day and asked if I could be part of their community as their friend, too, but that would be too uncomplicated for my socially awkward self. Eventually, I did become part of this group of weird people through a winding series of events.
I guess even unuttered little prayers of the heart get heard.
I was so happy to be sitting with them finally instead of looking down at them from a distance.
The Fear Awakens
After being in this community for a while, I discovered why this group was so attractive. They invested in each other beyond 90-minute small groups and two-hour Sunday services. We had worship nights, prophesied to each other, read the Bible together, shared hard prayer requests, and celebrated as prayers got answered.
But beyond all the churchy things, this group also had fun exploring London’s restaurants and movie theatres, shared extra-long phone calls, and hung out in each others’ homes — despite London’s stereotypically tiny flats.
They did life together, and the intimacy showed externally; that’s what made this community so attractive.
With the growing closeness, though, also came a growing fear: the fear of getting too close only to be rejected after they discovered more things about me — lil gay boi me.
Will they still want to hang out with me? Will I still be invited to people’s houses? Will the other guys find it awkward to keep sharing things with me? Will they think I just want their aubergine?
Will they slowly pull away?
The Last Jitterbugs
Late one night, I rolled around my bed sleeplessly. I felt this heaviness and unease in my heart. I guess it had been building up for a while — all these fears and what if’s projected about my head.
I felt like a dam quickly filled to the brim, and I couldn’t help but let it burst. So, I started composing a text message. I honestly don’t remember what I said fully, but it ended up being the longest thing I’d typed — so much so that the app had to cut off my message with a “Read more…” button.
I do remember saying I was thankful for the community but that I had to say something . . . I’m gay, and it was okay if they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore.
It took me so long to compose that message that it was already 2 in the morning when I finished and finally hit send.
The Rise of the Deeper Community
I didn’t expect any replies that night or that early in the morning. But as I got ready for bed, my phone kept ringing with a slew of messages. People replied in the group chat, and others personally messaged me their love and affirmation.
Some had just gotten home from a long flight, some were getting ready to rest after a long day of work, and some were already sleeping. But they made it a point to be there for a friend having a midnight crisis.
Over the next few days and weeks, I continuously got messages and phone calls from more people just extending gestures of love.
A small few were annoyed from all the notifications in the wee hours of the morning. And some didn’t reply or talk to me about my long text at all.
Looking back, the ones who responded to my coming out message eventually became my closest friends today. They didn’t give a long speech of affirmation or sermon. They just listened and helped me unload my burden.
From a small gesture of love came deeper and more intimate relationships over the years to come.
I’m glad I did it. I felt known, and I felt loved.
Cue song for the grand finale:
Have you come out to a church group? How did they respond? What holds you back from being vulnerable in a small group?