Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor
Nadia Bolz-Weber saw a spiritual longing in friends who didn’t fit into the typical church. So the Evangelical Lutheran pastor created a new one, The House for All SInners and Saints, which allows parishioners from all walks of life to embrace failures and surround themselves with acceptance, love, and grace.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: My transparency about my failings and all of the things that make me seem not "like a pastor," are what allow me to be certain people's pastor.
Mostly I grew up in Colorado Springs. We were in a very conservative religious tradition, Church of Christ. The God that I was taught to fear was like an angry, capricious bastard with a killer surveillance system who was basically constantly disappointed in me for being a human being.
When I was 12, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Graves' disease. I couldn't close my eyelids so my eyes literally bulged out of my skull and I developed this anger about how people treated me. And it ends up if you add a lot of drugs and alcohol to the anger, then it no longer protects you, it starts to kill you.
I had embraced the idea that I was going to be dead by the time I was 30 and I was OK with it. And so the weird thing about getting sober is it felt like a fairly rude interruption of my life. God picked me up and I'm kicking and screaming, being like, screw you. And God's like, that's adorable. I'm going to put you on this path now.
That's why it felt like grace. It gave me a completely different view of God. I fell in love with Lutheran theology, this idea that we're all simultaneously sinner and saint, 100% of both all the time. The idea that nobody is worthy and everybody's welcome. The fact that I can make a mistake and it's not this thing that's going to determine my value forever-- that's grace.
I was just literally the only religious person in my friend circle, and so I agreed to it. And I looked out and I saw these comics and academics, recovering alcoholics and queers, and I just thought, these people don't have a pastor. And then I went, oh, shit, I think it's supposed to be me. I think I'm supposed to be a pastor to my people as myself, with my struggles and failings, not some platonic ideal.
I had coffee with everybody in Denver twice and I couldn't get more than like 30, 40 people to come to church, and I felt like a failure. Then I was asked to preach at Red Rocks, there's 10,000 people. And then "The Denver Post," they did this front page article about me. My church doubled in size overnight because of this.
My parish is kind of a hot mess. It's a bunch of people who don't really belong in a church. The drag queens and the weirdos and the gays, but then we have these baby-boomers from the suburbs. One of my parishioners said, look, as the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I want to go on record as saying, I'm so glad there are people who look like my mom and dad at church now 'cause they love me in a way my mom and dad can't.
I have seen this thing about grace change me and change people in my congregation in a way that just telling them how to be good never would. I had to start a church I'd be willing to show up to. I don't like church-- it's exhausting to be like, oh, I better watch what I say. Can't make that joke, don't talk about that part of my past-- who's going to do that? To me, it felt really defiant to say, no, I think we can be a part of organized religion and do it on our terms.