In 2008, Annie and I decided to leave the Episcopal church in southern California, which was most unwelcoming. We returned to the more welcoming St. Mattress.
One day, I was talking with a United Congregational pastor friend, and he asked what church I served. I answered, “St. Mattress.” He smiled but suggested that when Annie and I got too many bedsores, we might try Irvine United Congregational Church. IUCC’s pastor, the Reverend Dr. Paul Tellström, was an excellent preacher and a progressive.
Annie and I were hungry for a faith-based community. We visited IUCC the following Sunday, and we have gone there ever since.
When Pastor Paul discovered that I was an Episcopal priest, he was eager to use me and my gifts.
Paul’s a low-key guy with an infectious smile, and he saw me as an asset instead of a threat. At one point, IUCC’s congregation included ten retired clergypeople from different denominations. Paul wanted all of us to be actively involved in church affairs.
He’s a rare preacher man. The institutional church needs more Pastor Pauls.
When I told Paul I was a Stephen Ministries Leader, he immediately wanted me to start that ministry at IUCC. That program is still going strong because Paul knew he could never devote an hour each week to listening and caring for hurting members of his flock, but Stephen Ministers can and do.
Knowing I had been in the mission field, Paul asked me to start a Global Ministries chapter at IUCC. We now have missions all over the world.
He encouraged me to teach progressive Christian classes. (As you can probably guess, my religious and political views are kind of out there.) As a retired priest in my senior years, I never dreamed I’d be so valued.
Paul epitomized the words, “IUCC welcomes you no matter where you are on your life’s journey.” As a gay, married man, Paul spent years not being accepted. As a pioneer in the LGBTQUI community and a leader in advocating equality, Paul welcomed all comers to IUCC. He paid a price in threats and insults.
His open-arms approach produced a volunteer choir of fifty people with magnificent voices.
Paul worked closely with the Jewish and Muslim communities, both of which used IUCC as their center of worship.
I loved having periodic one-on-one lunches with Paul to discuss our lives and ministries.
I could go on and on about my pal, Pastor Paul. He retired in May 2019 to spend more quality time with his husband because Paul has Parkinson’s disease, and time flies.
I’ll never forget Paul and his generosity in helping Annie and me to lead rich and fulfilling lives in the loving, inclusive environment at IUCC.
Paul was a great pastor who took IUCC to new heights. We shall miss him, but we are delighted that he and his husband will have more time together.
Thanks, Pastor Paul, for being you and for allowing me to be all I can be.
Image courtesy of the IUCC website