A promotional portrait from Norwescon 41, which the author attended. “While maintaining a primarily literary focus, Norwescon is large enough to provide a venue for many of the other aspects of science fiction and fantasy and the interests of its fans such as anime, costuming, art, gaming, and much, much more.” (Photo credit: Norwescon)

Rogues for Jesus

By the Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell

On Good Friday, instead of preparing for a worship service, I trekked to Norwescon — the largest science fiction and fantasy convention in the Pacific Northwest — wearing R2D2 earrings and a T-shirt with the words “Holy Chic” printed on the front. As both a fan and an aspiring science fiction writer, I enjoy these conventions, especially attending readings by favorite authors and workshops on science fiction writing as well as playing favorite character-driven games.

Science fiction and fantasy conventions are not exactly the places where pastors are expected to be found, and attendees have not always had a pleasant experience with Christianity and the church. Last year, a group of protestors stood outside the convention, waving signs about sin and hell, yelling on the bullhorn for people to accept Jesus. For a family-friendly convention that is inclusive of LGBTQ and other marginalized groups, the rhetoric did nothing to share the Gospel. Instead, it confirmed for many the stereotype that Christians are judgmental, condescending and arrogant.

I attend these conventions not only as a fan and writer, but also because I believe in the power of being present. Attendees reunite with old friends and form new relationships. Both fans and professionals find support and encouragement at these gatherings because it’s their community. This is where they share their interests, hobbies and parts of who they are that are not as visibly present in their daily lives. This is where they can be themselves.

I don’t hide who I am as a pastor when I attend conventions. It’s part of who I am. On Good Friday, I drank coffee with someone who was feeling lonely. I listened as someone shared about struggles in their writing career. On more than one occasion, a friend introduced me to someone as a pastor, which opened a listening space that was not otherwise available.

I also believe in the power of being seen. One of the topics in the writer’s workshop I attended was the issue of religion — the fact that, in science fiction, religion is often nonexistent or seen as only part of the past. My being present showed that having a religious voice — even a Christian voice — is important to add to our imagining of the future.

More than once, someone told me, “I’m glad you’re here. You give me hope that not all Christians are judgmental.” I’ve befriended many atheists, pagans and the “spiritual-but-not-religious” folks at these conventions. I don’t enter these conversations with the purpose of conversion, but, as I tell people, I hope for healing. I hope the person who experienced harm by the church will find healing in their life. I hope the person struggling in his or her career — and many who attend these conventions are writers, artists and other creatives — find encouragement to use their gifts. I attend with the hope that my presence will help in repairing and restoring some of the damage done in the name of the church.

A few years ago, a group of clergy coined the term “Rogues for Jesus” at an UNCO (UnConference) gathering. During the conversation, many of us spoke about the need for clergy to be present in unconventional (no pun intended) spaces outside of the traditional church community. There is a need for ministry leaders in places where we are not usually found. More than ever, there is a need for us who can live by the example of Jesus, gathering and eating and sharing together with people who are not always accepted or understood. Often at science fiction and fantasy conventions, people remark how their particular hobbies and interests are not often shared by family, friends or coworkers. Conventions are spaces where people find and create community. Clergy ought to be there, too — not to push an agenda but simply to be present.

On Pentecost, Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. At the end of Acts chapter two, after Peter has addressed the crowd of people, the early believers gathered together and shared “all things in common” (Acts 2:43). They created a community led by the movement of the Spirit to share what they experienced with each another, including the “goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:43).

Led by the Spirit, I hope more of us will live by the example of Jesus, going into spaces where we aren’t normally found. I hope that we will boldly go where ministers haven’t gone before, bringing a message of hope and healing. I hope to continue to share my love of Jesus, along with my enthusiasm for science fiction and fantasy, participating in the world-building happening here, now, of the beloved community.

The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.