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Pastor discusses unconventional approach

Renting out a "dive bar" to host an Epiphany pageant  -- with a "drag queen" as emcee, may have seemed "crazy" in terms of the traditional Church, a Colorado minister said recently.

However, the Rev. Nadia Bolz -Weber said her House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver  did just that in recent years.

Bolz-Weber said she and her church members told people to dress up as wizards for the event because that's what the Magi were, although many interpretations about them describe them as kings. 

"Basically, we told a Bible story in a bar," she said, speaking to a crowd of Oklahomans at Oklahoma City University.

Bolz-Weber discussed her unconventional approach to ministry, ,among other things, as guest lecturer for the 2017 Willson Lectures on Oct. 19 in the Bishop Angie Smith Chapel at OCU. Bolz-Weber shared a biblical message during the OCU afternoon chapel service and she also spoke at a public lecture later in the evening.

She spoke about the unorthodox Epiphany event at an afternoon question-and-answer session in the chapel. Epiphany is the Christian celebration observing the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, also known as the Three Kings or wise men. It is generally observed Jan. 6. Many Christian congregations observe  Epiphany, and in Hispanic culture, the holiday is often called Three Kings Day.

In addition to founding House for All Sinners and Saints, Bolz-Weber is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People"  " Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint." She is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

During the question-and-answer session, Bolz-Weber answered several questions, most related to how she deals with criticism of her nontraditional approach to ministry, her role as a female minister and ways to thrive in a conservative atmosphere when one is not conservative.  

She said she and her congregation determines what they will do based not on what everyone else is doing but what seems to fit their church.

"We said what makes the most sense for us to do Epiphany." Bolz-Weber said. 

The minister said she has become accustomed to people disagreeing with her nontraditional ways. Dressed in a black tank that showed off her sleeve tattoos, a skirt and cowboy boots, Bolz-Weber said she felt that she had to "culturally commute" in order to try to fit in with most mainline churches until she made the decision to start her own.

"I  was asking myself do I need to tone down my sense of irony, my sense of snarkiness, so I started a church that I feel comfortable showing up to," she said.

She has been described as a "pastor to outsiders," a term she acknowledged briefly.

"Basically anyone who hangs out (at her church) there's something wrong with them. My father describes House of Sinners and Saints as 'High Church at the Stars Wars Cantina,'" she said, drawing laughter from the audience.   

She said many of the people in her church have been hurt by Christianity, with the theme of suicide found throughout the stories of some of the individuals who have been rejected by the Church because of their sexual orientation. She said people who are struggling to be inclusive in their churches should know that sexual orientation is a "life or death" issue for many seeking a welcoming house of worship.

Bolz-Weber said the Church should be inclusive to reach everyone and change the Church for the better.  

"If we are unwilling to be in relationship with someone different, it makes it hard to change," the minister said.  

Bolz-Weber said she thinks men are sometimes hesitant to allow women more leadership roles in the Church because they have been accustomed to having the power all to themselves for a long time.

"If you've always had power and voice in the Church, you can tend to resent it when someone is trying to reset it more broadly," she said.

Despite the Church's troubles with inclusiveness, she said she is unwilling to believe the unflattering theories that it is "dying." 

"I don't get super paranoid about the Church dying. I understand that the anxiety of it is going away," she said.

"Christianity could have died years ago when Christians were having church in caves. It's always shifting and changing, but I don't see it dying."

About the Willson Lectures

The Willson lectureship is provided by an endowment from James M. and Mavis Willson of Floydada, Texas. The lectures are directed to the interests of students in the area of religion and society. According to OCU's website, the Willson's gift to OCU has brought to campus speakers of international stature from the areas of religion, science,Christian theology and ethics, church history, biblical studies, and liturgical studies since 1953. Such eminent scholars as Amy-Jill Levine, J. Philip Newell, Michelle Gonzalez Moldanado, and Joerg Rieger have spoken in recent years.

Carla Hinton

Religion Editor

Related Photos
The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks during the Willson Lectures at Oklahoma City University. [Photo provided]

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks during the Willson Lectures at Oklahoma City University. [Photo provided]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6b82d0b95a3ad55a6961a1fafd4a25e8.jpg" alt="Photo - The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks during the Willson Lectures at Oklahoma City University. [Photo provided]" title="The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks during the Willson Lectures at Oklahoma City University. [Photo provided]"><figcaption>The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks during the Willson Lectures at Oklahoma City University. [Photo provided]</figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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