Faith home, finally found
The very first time Ethan Bettis walked into St. Paul Lutheran Church, it was for worship on a Sunday morning one year ago.
The 17-year-old was there with Cheyenne Griswold, who encouraged him to come with her. Ethan, who is gay, was hesitant – he had actively tried to become a part of other churches, only to be rejected because of his sexuality.
His friend was not hesitant. She knew he would be loved and accepted at St. Paul for exactly who he is.
“She walked up to Andy Langdon (director of youth ministries), and said, ‘This is my friend, Ethan. He’s gay,'” Ethan said.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Ethan has jumped right into life at St. Paul – joining the mental health team on the NAMI walk, singing in the youth choir, attending worship, being a part of Sunday Night Live, presenting an adult learning session on Sunday morning about living out his faith through activism. Unfortunately, he just missed going on the youth mission trip last year…but made up for that this year.
Ethan started to go to church when he was 10 years old. Life had taken some rough turns – his younger brother was diagnosed with cancer, and his grandfather died.
“I thought maybe since I wasn’t going to church, God was mad at me and gave my brother cancer,” he said. “I was angry at God, that this supposedly almighty and powerful being could let something horrible happen to a helpless child. “But we became closer as a family and avid church goers.”
As time went on, Ethan came to understand that he is gay. And as time went on, he found himself rejected by the people at two churches.
They said: “We don’t hate you, we hate your sin.” Ethan wasn’t quite sure what he was being told. “I was still trying to figure out this being gay and Christian thing. I eventually gave up on church and decided I could worship through the way I lived my life and didn’t need to attend a church to be considered a Christian.” But anyone who knows Ethan knows that community is very important to him. Then the invitation from Cheyenne came.
“I immediately fell in love with the entire place, the people, music, building. There are a lot of reasons we are drawn to and from God. I’m particularly in tune with welcoming (or unwelcoming) because of my sexuality. I was really wary of how people would react here at St. Paul, but when I found out the ELCA was an inclusive church, I was all in.”
Ethan graduated this year from Pleasant Valley High School. In the fall, he will attend Scott Community College. He hopes to be a cardiothoracic surgeon someday, in honor of his grandfather who died when Ethan was 10. He also is interested in hospital administration. And, there might be a few people at St. Paul who are encouraging him to consider church work, too.
This summer, Ethan was one of the 118 people who ventured to Jonesville, Virginia, to help make homes warmer, safer, drier. He updated his friends and family about the work there on Facebook.
“This week… man oh man. It has been hard. It’s hard to be away from my family and animals. It’s hard to do work that I don’t know or want to do but I’m doing it because I need to. God says that humility is shown by not words but actions (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).”
And he is thankful for St. Paul.
“I’ve found a church that welcomes me. For years, I didn’t know how to be gay and Christian. What does it mean to be gay and Christian? It means I am a person searching for God. I am loved by God, redeemed by Christ.
“My sexuality doesn’t keep God’s love from me, but allows me to be embraced by a supportive community who knows I have value and worth as a person.” He then says a version of the blessing prayed at the end of each Sunday Night Live – St. Paul’s high school youth group: “I am a child of God, wholly and dearly loved. Jesus loves me and others do too.”