Just as I Am is the first of three missional communities formed by Mr. Rob Jerger, a Lay Eucharistic Minister at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Tyler, Texas. Having observed the neglect, denial, and abuse of the LGBTQ community in their small East Texas town, Mr. Jerger felt called as a Christian and a gay man to bridge the community and heal some of their wounds.
Here is an excerpt from Rob’s SMG grant proposal:
“Many members of the LGBTQ community have been told they do not belong in churches. They have been excommunicated from churches, victims of conversion therapy by churches and the list goes on. Members of this community have been victims of discrimination, protest, and hate crimes. We are challenged with the fact that, having been wounded by churches, this community is reluctant to have anything to do with any religious organization. Our resources are limited at the time to contributions from members of the congregation. Our goal is to be able to offer them the word of The Lord at their own comfort level.
Growing up gay in East Texas, I have experienced, firsthand, many of the problems that plague this community. I attended church for many years with the feeling that the church was just allowing me to show up. It was not until I experienced the love and inclusion of St. Francis Episcopal Church that I knew and believed I could have a personal relationship with Christ. I have had one on one meetings with members of the LGBTQ community in East Texas. I have met with a lesbian couple that was sent a certified letter, from the church they were attending, informing them that, based upon the nature of their relationship, they were not welcome to be members of that church. I met with a 78-year-old gay man, whose husband is in prison, that feels he has no one to talk to. I met with a lesbian couple that attended a church for many years, as a couple; having been asked to resign their positions as Sunday school teachers. After enduring a sermon relating Jesus sharing a meal with sinners to someone sharing a meal in the home of lesbians, they could take no more. I spoke to a young man who, after coming out to his parents, was forced to stand before his congregation and apologize for his sin of being homosexual. I have many more stories; many of which are the stories of suicide and loss in and among the community.”
He has many heartbreaking and heartwarming community experiences to share. They were excited to welcome Baby Oliver, a newborn child of two of their members and the very first Just as I Am baby!
When Just as I Am started in 2017, the members would meet weekly in each other’s homes where they would share a meal, have a fun and educational activity, and come together for a time of prayer. Just one year later, in 2018, this small missional community experienced significant growth with membership rising to 885! That number far exceeds the annual membership of many well established “big city” churches in our diocese! From Just as I Am two other missional communities have formed: Two or More and Young at Heart. Two or More serves young adults, and Young at Heart focuses on health and wellness for mature adults. All three of St. Francis’ missional communities are now meeting at a 1,320 square foot rental space they named The Well. Additionally, The Well hosts weekly and monthly classes for the community and board meetings for Tyler Area Gays. Also, Just as I Am program has recently formed in Temple and League City.