For thousands of years, religions damned, persecuted, and murdered LGBTQ people. In February, the United Methodist Church continued that exclusion, albeit less violently, when it voted to strengthen its official opposition to same-gender marriage and ordaining open LGBTQ clergy. No wonder the word “church” engenders abhorrent feelings within many of us.
As a kid raised in the Lutheran church, I learned I was an abomination. As a gay neophyte, that damning dogma didn’t stop me from exploring Denver’s dance clubs, most memorably The Apartment and The Broadway. My trip back to the college dorm in Greeley took me through Capitol Hill by a beautiful, neo-classical building with a curved colonnade and portico. Five decades later, as a gay expert, I learned it began as a church. However, today’s incarnation, the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality, is definitely not a church. As its board president, I can guarantee that.
Althea is exactly as its title implies: a place for anyone to explore their spirituality, their relationship to God, Nature, and Spirit.
This inclusive heritage began in the 1880s. Three extraordinary sisters living in Pueblo, Colorado, Nona, Alethea, and Fannie Brooks, played decisive roles in founding New Thought ministry: Divine Science, a belief in Oneness, individual divinity, and unconditional love. In 1922, the sisters’ vision culminated in Capitol Hill’s landmark sanctuary at 14th Avenue and Williams Street.
Nobody honors that history more than member Tim Wilson. Embracing the same beliefs, he launched Mariposa, “a program that creates a safe haven for LGBTQ individuals of all ages and their friends and allies, providing supportive environments for spiritual exploration and self-empowerment.” Walking his talk, for his 70th birthday party, Wilson solicited donations and netted over $11,000 given to LGBTQ charities.
After college, 45 years ago, Wilson moved to Denver from Charleston, West Virginia and immediately embraced activism. Through his long-term relationship with an African American, he said, “I finally understood discrimination firsthand. This must be [his] daily life. It was the best teacher, the beginning of my activist life. I learned about white privilege and the power dynamics of interracial relationships.”
Wilson became involved with San Francisco-based Black and White Men Together, starting Denver’s local chapter (currently inactive), and later serving as national co-chair. He has been active in AIDS causes and PFLAG. He was on Mayor Webb’s initial Gay/Lesbian Advisory Committee whose members spearheaded the Colorado Legal Initiative Project to overturn Colorado’s anti-LGBTQ Amendment 2.
“Serving my community that is under attack is my life’s purpose, why I’m on earth,” said Wilson. “So many people have been wounded by their church. The Althea Center is the perfect place to set up my work, and has been incredibly loving and supportive.”
Wilson began Mariposa (Spanish for butterfly) by conducting a poll asking Althea’s attendees their interests regarding the LGBTQ community. The majority response was getting to know those members and their culture better. Mariposa spread its wings and flew.
Last year’s events included screening Raising Zoey, a documentary film that puts a Latina face on the struggles of a mother supporting her trans child, and a discussion with James E. Laws, Jr., author of Wilmington Manor, a novel of historical fiction about a gay, interracial relationship during the Civil War. Panels covered a wide range of topics: Lesbian Live –Womyn (sic) for All Seasons; Bisexuals Beloved; Transgender Terrific; Two Spirits–a Native American embrace of multiple genders.
2019 is proving to be just as dynamic:
Diversity Dialogues: monthly, first Wednesday panel and discussion beginning with a view of Before Stonewall (August 7), the documentary film and follow-up to spring’s After Stonewall.
Randy Rainbow: September theater outing at the Paramount Theater. (Past shows have included The Boys in the Band, Boston Marriage, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.)
LGBTQ History Month: October, panel and discussion
LGBTQ Military: November, celebration of active members of the military and veterans
Grief Workshop: in development and not LGBTQ-specific
But Althea is more than Mariposa. It’s a community embracing all teachings, welcoming everyone. Volunteers keep the place running with their love, time, talents, and tithes. At any Sunday service, you may hear jazz, Bach, country twang, native Indian chanting, or the bangles of dancers from India.
The congregation has sung Rocky Mountain High, Hey Jude, Dancing Queen (no un-singable, lugubrious Lutheran dirges). Courtney Leduc leads the children’s group with her boundless energy, creativity, and love for kids, organizing Althea’s first summer camp. After service, the dining room is a din of chatter sparked by its $8 lunchtime smorgasbord prepared by Chef Tom.
Weekly, Althea offers classes and events—from yoga to spiritual psychology, musical improv to chanting—all furthering spiritual exploration and drawing on worldwide mystical wisdom. Monthly, the dining room becomes a shelter for the Women’s Homeless Initiative.
Althea’s spiritual director, Dr. Jonathan Ellerby, delivers heart-felt messages with compassion and a sense of humor. He draws upon vast experience: his teenage quest for purpose, Jewish upbringing, work in healthcare and the business world, his deep connection to a Lakota tribe, a doctoral degree in Comparative Religion. Dr. Jonathan and Tim led the way for Althea’s second participation in this year’s PrideFest parade.
We chart our own spiritual journey. If you seek a loving, joyful, inclusive community, a deeper connection to the mysteries of life, check out The Althea Center (altheacenter.org). Sunday service begins at a civilized 10:30 a.m. Remember, it’s not a church.