Bec Cranford and Church of the Misfits

April 11th, 2013
Terry and Bec

Bec Cranford is the Volunteer Coordinator at Gateway Center; you can read about her work with the homeless community here.

During the second part of the interview Bec talked about her call to ministry, which she described in phases: her lightning bolt getting knocked off her bum, a time of disillusionment and discontent, righteous indignation/anger, and then a call “home.”

Bec was raised in a Baptacostalist church; where her parents were in ministry. Not everything was as it seemed though. Bec said, “Mental illness was a stigma in the south—especially in certain evangelical circles—my father never dealt with that, and he was closet alcoholic.”

When she was twenty-one, her parents finally divorced, basically because of her father’s alcoholism. She also found out that he had told the church community that she was a lesbian (she is not). As a result she was treated poorly, and so she just left church. At that point she says:

"I was just done with my dad, the church, and God. It all just looked like a bunch of hypocrisy. They talked about Jesus, and even more about purity codes and holiness. The church seemed bigoted and racist.”

She describes herself then as “liking Jesus but really turned off by church.”

So she left church and got into drugs. One evening she showed signs of overdose, and her vision darkened. She experienced something “really scary, like an absence of love,” and she was fearful. At that point, she cried out, “Jesus, if you’re real, help me!”

She’s not quite sure if what happened next was caused by the drugs or was a psychological state. She saw a crucified Christ figure looking more like “Bob Marley meets Jack Sparrow.” It wasn’t a blonde Jesus who came to save me.” She laughed a bit telling the story, but she was convinced at that moment she “wanted to serve God and bowed to God to serve him.”

Bec didn’t feel welcome in a lot of churches after that. She adds, “I had green hair, tattoos, wore combat boots, and I was angry. ” It was a difficult time for her. She told God, “Whatever you do, don’t make me a Pentecostal. Make me like a Lutheran or something rational.” She also had mystical experiences and glossolalia, which she tried to rationalize away by telling herself, “This is some weird cognitive thing with some Hebrew and Italian mixed in.” These experiences “warmed my heart, so I went back to evangelical churches looking for answers and started my whole call process.”

After attending a Bible college she came back to Atlanta interested in starting a Spanish language worship service. But the leadership of the church said, “We need to teach persons English if they’re going to be American citizens.”

Bec says she was “prideful and angry. I thought I knew it all because I’d gone to college.” She experienced a long season of discontent and had lots of questions for God. Her anger, she explains was “a result of cognitive dissonance from the faith I grew up with, what I learned in school, and the pain I was seeing in the world.”

Bec was seeing populations that evangelicals weren’t reaching out to—“postmoderns and queers.” Once again she found herself saying, “God, you need to find somebody to do something;” then she realized that the passion she was feeling was in fact part of her call. Her ability to see the pain people were experiencing helped her realize that God was in fact calling her, not somebody else. She was being called back home to “love people who thought differently about church, God, and Jesus.”

While attending seminary, Bec began to feel a call to start a church. At that point she began to pray and seek God and explore what God was doing in Atlanta. She met with mainline pastors, connected with emergent village, and read books by Rob Bell and Len Sweet. She announced to her husband, Terry, that she felt God was saying, “Go plant a church.” The target audience was “postmoderns who would describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, queer persons, and those who were hurt or doubting.”

She left seminary early to move home and plant a church. Bec once again talked to the church leadership. She said, “I honestly had a lot of pride, but tried to humble myself and explain that I wanted to contextualize Christ to postmoderns.” She was interested in “helping people explore a variety of doctrines as a basic first step, to be a starting place for new people.” The church leadership sensed her call but in the end her way of doing church was too different for them to embrace. Her home church wasn’t at all affirming of that call. They believed her viewpoints were welcoming to the point of “accepting sin.” Her response was “that maybe it was God’s job to figure all that stuff out and we’re just to love people.” The church stated that with her viewpoints they didn’t even want her working in the nursery. Of course she was terribly hurt and says it was “a time of humility and a dry season.”

She and Terry decided to start a bar ministry discussing hymns and theology after awhile attendance wasn’t growing and they were getting discouraged. She asked, “God, did you call me to do this, or am I just a complete failure?” There were times when she sat up all night in prayer or crying. Then one night she heard clearly, “Get up and go downtown [Atlanta].” She remembers thinking that she and Terry didn’t need to go downtown because there was nothing there. But they drove in anyway; they saw the people; and “we just fell in love with the city.”

Terry was recruited to work with the chronically homeless to help meet basic needs. Next, Bec was hired by Gateway Center. Six months later, they started the Church of the Misfits and committed to meeting weekly. Bec says, “We don’t have a lot of noses or nickels, but it’s good. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” The church is drawing persons from a variety of beliefs; they’ve begun to share their stories more intimately including their brokenness; and they’re exploring Jesus together.

They moved around frequently for church. They were continuing to meet in bars, and then someone in their group admitted to being an addict. At that point it was time to shift gears, so they opened their home to their new church community. The main worship room is furnished with couches and icons. They’ve intentionally created a space that will be safe for all people, and they’ve backed off from the bar ministry for now.

Bec is discerning whether to officially connect with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She has some courses to complete for ordination. Terry was ordained in the Southern Baptist denomination so he’ll be completing the process first.

I was not surprised to find out who her favorite prophet is. “Jeremiah,” she replied. “A lot of people think he was a sap because he lept into a relationship with God. Jeremiah got in God’s face. He complained and he was real. Some people think he was bipolar. He experienced real emotion. He said, this is stupid I don’t even want to do this. Jeremiah calls God a deceiver. He’s so in the face of God that sometimes we think that’s tantamount to being evil or rebellious. But it just shows he had such a deep relationship with God. Jeremiah cared about justice issues, he cared about the people being taken away in exile, and he cared about God; but sometimes Jeremiah had human moments.”

And I thought to myself—human moments—the kind experienced by Bec Cranford, Volunteer Coordinator for Gateway Center and church planter called by God.

Bec says about her relationship with her father and mother now, "We are reconciled. He is doing great, retired, and still singing. He spends most of his time doing yard work. My mom is amazing. She has always been there for me, and has continued to support my call to ministry, even when it was unpopular or unorthodox."

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