Just As I Am
Just As I Am is a Missional Community of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Tyler, Texas. It is made up of members of the LGBTQ community and our allies. We meet every Monday evening to worship, share a meal, and participate in an educational or inspirational activity. We had our first gathering in June of 2017 with 12 members of the community in attendance. Just As I Am now has over 50 unique members who have attended more than one gathering.
I am Rob Jerger, the founder of Just As I Am. Growing up gay in rural East Texas, I was well aware of the challenges that plagued the LGBTQ community in East Texas. I began to have coffee with members of the community, and I heard their stories. I met with a young lesbian couple, with two adopted children who had been attending a local church. When the church discovered that they were a couple, the pastor sent them a certified letter, letting them know they were not welcome to be members of that church. I had coffee with a 78 year old man whose husband is in prison, not to be released for at least 10 years. We met in a Starbucks, and as we talked, the gentleman would first look around to make sure no one could hear us, and then any parts of our conversation that pertained to being gay would be spoke in a whisper. I met with a 27 year old man who, after “coming out” to his family, was forced to go before his church, and apologize for his “sin” of being homosexual. He was later forced into Christian conversion therapy.
I went to my priest, Fr. Mitch Tollett, hurting for my community, and angry that, we as Christians, had allowed these types of wounds to continue in our community. I felt that somebody should do something, somebody should say something! It was time that somebody stood up and said, this is wrong! Fr. Mitch helped me to realize, that I was somebody and I could be “that” somebody. That was in April of 2017. With the help of Fr. Mitch, Jason Evans, and many members of St. Francis Episcopal Church, we launched in June of 2017.
The rapid growth of Just As I Am was both exciting and scary. People just kept showing up, but they weren’t just showing up, they were actively participating, and they were beginning to love one another, and you could clearly see, they loved God.
Less than a year old, Just As I Am is now a thriving community. We just received a strategic missional grant, that has enabled us to secure a permanent home for not only Just As I Am, but for other groups that have started to emerge through Just As I Am. We have started to attract some of the young unchurched, and other groups of people, that for whatever reason, feel marginalized.
I don’t know what the future will hold for Just As I Am or for the missional intentions of St. Francis, but I hold fast to two truths that I learned early on. No matter what opposition we might face, our response, I hope, will always be a response of love. Lastly, when fear and doubt start to creep in, I remember what Jason Evans told me early on: “Jesus will make it what Jesus wants it to be."
Rob Jerger is a Missoner for Missional Communities at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Tyler, TX. and a salon manager for Ulta Beauty. Listen to his interview with Jason Evans on the podcast A New Thing here, and more nformation about Just As I Am can be found here.