Bishop J and Valeria Roa Go for Cheeseburgers

First Meal with Bishop J

I remember my first meal with Bishop J. At the time, I had been attending Catholic services, as I had been all my life but I was at a crossroads in my spiritual journey. I had begun to experience this growing need to venture away from what was customary for me in terms worship and began to experience this undeniable need, or demand even, of wanting more from the sermons and the Catholic church was failing miserably in that regard.

This was at time in my life when I had unintentionally moved back to New York from a four month stint at home in Texas. I was visiting the city to attend an interview for a job I didn’t get. Literally, my second move to New York was entirely unintentional, as I had a return ticket for a flight that I casually decided on the day of travel to not use. My life was disorganized and uncertain to say the least. I had no job, hardly any money or even an address. I was staying with a friend in West Village and it was a very bohemian existence… I literally moved back with a carry-on suitcase and a dream.

I met Carlee Curtin, a member of Church of the Village by chance (or perhaps Divine intervention?) one day through my sister in Texas, who didn’t even know Carlee but is in her network of colleagues at Mary Kay. I needed a job and as a favor from one MK director to another, Carlee agreed to help my sister groom me to become one of her consultants. One interesting little side note and perhaps reason for this generous favor is that Mary Kay’s mission statement for all consultants is “God first, family second and business third.” Hello?!? Thankyouverymuch!!!

One day I casually mentioned to Carlee at one of our meetings that I was in the process of finding a home church that would satisfy my need for a complete spiritual overhaul. You can imagine this to be very daunting task in a place like New York, where there are an endless amount of churches and denominations to experience. I guess Carlee sensed that I was a bit overwhelmed and suggested COTV. She said I had to try out. She mentioned the music was amazing and that they even had dancers who performed. When she mentioned that there was a group of folks who even marched with the church at Gay Pride Parade that was it. I vowed to go that Sunday because to me, up until that point, the words “gay” and “church” never belonged in the same sentence. So, I figured, if these guys are cool like that, then let’s found out just how cool.

So I went and, they far exceeded my expectations. I filled out one of those little yellow welcome cards excited to make a connection and to, let’s be honest, enjoy a free meal at a sit down restaurant. Seriously, it was a luxury for me as I was pretty broke and needed a break from all that $1 pizza that had been my sustenance for breakfast, lunch and dinner for quite a while!!!

I had attended service maybe three times before Bishop invited me to lunch to, as he put, “to talk about my spiritual journey.” So we did. We talked about my journey to New York and my journey with God and all things in between. He took particular interest in my hometown of Laredo and of stories about the struggles on the border. I remember feeling awkward and humbled to have lunch with him, a bishop, as he was essentially a stranger at that point. I slowly felt more comfortable as our meal progressed. I guess in retrospect, the idea is that if you’re talking about yourself then there’s comfort in the situation as you are recounting all the things that are familiar to you.

Anyways, that was a defining moment. I figured that every time I went to church after this meal, I at least knew one person and didn’t have to feel so alone. I’ve met a few people at church since and there have been other little gestures that are so thoughtful they became little gestures with big outcomes. You can tell they come from a place of genuine love and interest. These gestures are the reason I have stayed, they are the reason that even though from time to time I stray, I always come back. And when I return, it’s always to a warm welcome with a hug and big smile, without ever any judgment and usually with request to join a committee. Thank you, Bishop J.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of stories from parishioners and others about about Bishop Alfred Johnson, or Bishop J as we affectionately call him, and his ministry among us. You are invited to share stories of the first time you met him, or perhaps something that Bishop J did or said that was important, life-changing, or hilarious to you. Whether you express your story in a few sentences, a haiku, or a page, we want to read it! We’ve extended the submission date to Wednesday, June 10. To submit, please send your story to our Bishop J Story Editor, Selby Ewing.