Living Church Pastor Joseph Garret Talks Compassion, Affirmation and Celebration

Pastor Joseph Garret photographed by Julián P. Ledezma

Let’s face it: We live in a world where organized religion has been increasingly weaponized. We have been confronted with growing amounts of hate in the name of spiritual belief systems and practice.

I’ve had multiple clients and friends tell me that they have fallen away from the faith of their youth for multiple reasons. For many of the readers of Out In SA, it may have been because the church rejected you. Your identity was considered sinful. For others, it may have been more complicated. Maybe you didn’t feel spiritually nourished by your attendance. Or maybe you felt you were being pressured to serve an institution rather than be part of something that was truly the heart of your community.

And in either case, Pastor Joseph Garret is working to change that.

Julián P. Ledezma

Living Church has been serving the San Antonio community for more than 32 years, originally organized by a group of individuals who felt a calling to meet the spiritual and physical needs of those affected by HIV/AIDS during a period of time when this kind of love and care was rare if available at all. Now in an era where hospice care is rarely needed, as more and more people are able to live with HIV rather than die of AIDS-related complications, the church community has been able to change its focus and reach out in new and different ways.

I can testify to the truth of Pastor Joseph’s commitment to serving our community. When I heard about the plans for Living Church’s new multipurpose center Woodlawn Pointe, I immediately asked him if he would be willing to host a conference on National Overdose Awareness Day regarding the need for methadone treatment (learn more at sicknotstupid.com). His answer was an immediate and enthusiastic “absolutely!

Besides having always been LGBT-affirming, Living Church has always maintained an open communion … in all possible senses of the word. San Antonio is blessed with many LGBT-affirming faith traditions, and I’ve had people tell me that made choosing a new place of worship more difficult than they expected.

For individuals who are seeking a new spiritual home and aren’t sure how to “pick from a list,” what do you want readers to know about Living Church?
I would hope that no one would just pick from a list, but would ask questions first, like, “Why does this church believe what they believe? How do they express their beliefs? Are they active in the community? Are they just welcoming to LGBT or are they affirming? Will they just tell me what to believe or am I free to question and explore my faith?”

And how does Living Church endeavor to answer such questions?
Living Church is a non-denominational, Progressive Christian church and, as such, we believe that how we treat others is the fullest expression of our faith. We find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes. We strive for peace and justice among all people while committing to a path of life-long learning, compassion and selfless love.

What should attendees expect at a Living Church service?
They will find a fairly ordinary church experience except maybe a few more laughs, a lot more smiles and a deeper understanding of everything they have ever learned in church. Service is what you have when someone passes away; we call our times of worship “celebrations.” We believe that life is worth celebrating, even in the most difficult times. We offer three celebrations a week — 10 a.m. and noon on Sundays and 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Through the 210 Living Spiritual Enrichment Program, we offer classes, events, and workshops designed to enhance one’s spirituality, such as Life After Loss, Homosexuality and the Bible, and Faith Talk.

So many individuals in our community who identify as LGB or gender-nonconforming have struggled over the years with the messages they have received from faith-based institutions about the wrongness of their identity. Many have been told, and even felt themselves, that they were going to hell and needed to be cured of their “affliction.” What words do you have for people who are working to honor their sexuality or gender identity but still consider themselves a child of God? How do they reconcile past church teachings with who they know themselves to be?
Condemnation in the name of religion is a difficult thing to reconcile and many people can’t do it at all, so they walk away from what can be an encouraging and fulfilling part of life. We are happy to help anyone in reconciling their faith and their identity, and we offer classes and support for those going through this process. It is a long process, but Living Church is a good place to start. When we do not know which to believe, the Fundamental or the Progressive, here is the litmus test: God is love. There is no fear in love. Therefore, there is no fear in God. If what you are being told is meant to make you fearful, then it is not of God. It sounds simple because it is light and easy.

What’s next for your ministry?
We have been given this wonderful gift of a very large building which we call Woodlawn Pointe. We named it differently from the church because we believe this gift is not just for us but for the community, and going forward, we want to share it as much as possible. The building includes 19 offices available for nonprofit organizations, a 400-seat auditorium for events and concerts, banquet hall, chapel, boardroom and many other meeting spaces. Several groups are already moving in and Woodlawn Pointe is quickly becoming a center of community.


Living Church at Woodlawn Pointe
702 Donaldson Ave., (210) 468-2787, livingchurchsa.org

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