I've always been a sucker for a man in a tie. Particularly a man who doesn't take himself too seriously and wears a tie with a sense of humor. Too many of us take ourselves entirely too seriously and when I see a necktie covered in bottles of Tabasco sauce, little Christmas lights or tiny cartoon characters I already know I'm going to like the man wearing it.
A few years ago, while I was still pastoring our little church of misfits and seekers a young man walked through the doors wearing just such a tie. It was blue and covered in Looney Tunes characters. There was Bugs, of course, along with Wil-E-Coyote, Marvin Martian, Tweety, Porky and Foghorn Leghorn. It wasn't really the characters on his tie that first caught my attention. It was that he was wearing a tie at all. . .
That, and the fact that as he stood in the doorway of the church looking as though he was about to collapse, he was swaying slightly and absolutely reeking of alcohol.
It wasn't uncommon for people attending worship with us for the first time to be afraid. Most of us had lived our whole lives believing we were on the fast track to hell. We had grown up in churches that told us there was no worse sin than homosexuality and that if we dared darken the doors the roof of the church might cave in or lightening may strike us dead on the spot. Often, people would spend the first week they visited with us sitting in their cars in the parking lot. It was too much risk to actually get out and come in.
Those of us who had been around awhile knew what to watch for. We tried to be as reassuring as possible while offering hot coffee, a smile and our own stories.
However, this young man was worse off than most.
While most of us had on jeans and t-shirts he showed up in suit and tie. One look around confirmed for him that he had made a terrible miscalculation. Not only was he gay, and scared, and drunk – horror of horrors – he was totally overdressed. And he started to panic.
He turned to leave and I raced after him, knowing that if he made it to his car we would never see him again. Not only that, he shouldn't be driving anyway.
I quickly introduced myself and looked around for other people he might know. I introduced him to some others who were there and offered him some coffee. He still looked like he might bolt and I started making small talk.
I told him that I liked his tie and suddenly the dam burst. He began to cry. We sat down in a quiet corner, and knowing there was nothing I could do or say, I just held his hand and waited.
I didn't even know his name.
Gradually he started to talk. He was terrified but he wanted to come to church. He was indeed drunk. But he was more embarrassed about being overdressed than anything else. I just kept telling him that all of us had felt exactly the same way he did the first time we worked up the courage to look for God. And that he looked great.
We sat some more. Church was supposed to start. Everyone was waiting on me.
Finally he moved. His hands reached up and he took off his tie. Handing it to me, I slipped it over my head and put it on over my sweater. Church was late and it was time to go.
He and I walked into the sanctuary together – with him feeling a little more calm and me wearing a skirt. . . and a tie. I wore it the whole night.
He came back to church once or twice more over the next five years. I can't remember if I ever knew his name. But I have a dark blue necktie covered in cartoon characters and I still pray for the young man who gave it to me.
It was one of the holiest moments of my life.