A House Divided

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"I remember when we did that, and it was hard, wasn't it? Yes, it was," she says. "I felt like he asked us to be honest and talk about it, and we weren't really keeping it real."

"I think we have a hard time keeping it real on this particular subject," adds another man. "We all know that there's gays in our church, or we know someone whose daughter or son is gay or what have you, but we would still rather not bring it up."

The Bible-study group is a small sampling of the larger congregation at Emmanuel. There are young people in their twenties, older members in their eighties. In one pew, a young guy sports a hoodie and a new pair of Jordans; in another, a white-haired lady totes a black leather Bible so worn it bears her fingerprints. At times, the confluence of generations is abrupt, the generational differences as clear as the cross on the altar.

When Reynolds asks the class to come up with creative ways to talk about safe sex with young people, for example, a group of twenty-somethings suggest hosting a movie night and showing sexually overt films. An older man in spectacles scoffs.

"You don't need to be creative; just tell the truth," he says. "When I was coming up, we thought that the baby came out of a side pocket on the side of the woman's stomach, with a zipper. We figured it out soon enough."

At the end of the class, Reynolds again directs the group to a projection on the screen, to a list of goals he has for the Bible study. The last one urges "support for those who challenge sexual oppression and who work for justice within their congregations and denominations."

"I see myself as someone who challenges sexual oppression," he says to the class. "I could use your support. But if you don't agree with me and you don't want to support me, say a prayer for me."

Reverend Reynolds has been a blast of modernity for Emmanuel, which has held holy in its current location just west of downtown Colorado Springs since 1971. Next to the Bible and a big black binder that contains notes for each Sunday's sermon, a laptop is the tool that Reynolds uses most. Emmanuel's ministry now extends well beyond the main church hall -- where purple and gold flags flank the choir rows and a huge gold cross crowns the altar -- and onto the Internet. Two years ago, Reynolds launched a Web ministry so congregants can log on to the Lord 24/7.

"If God be God," reads one of his online sermons, "then surely God knows what year this is.... He is not regulated by AT&T and He is not limited to some mainline.... Jesus is not only on the mainline but is on the digital T1 line and the DSL line and the dial-up modem lines. Jesus is in the satellites and in the fiber optic networks and in the digital networks."

"When I came here, I wanted to be part of a congregation that is progressive in every way," says the 43-year-old Reynolds. "But when I arrived, we had, like, two phone lines, a secretary, a custodian and an old-fashioned mimeograph copy machine. The fumes would be coming into your nose as you cranked it. That was it. There was no such thing as e-mail or anything like that."

Reynolds was living in Dallas, his father's home town, when he was called to pastor at Emmanuel in 1992. After earning a degree in communications from the University of Denver in 1989, he had moved to Dallas to take a job as a court reporter and lead a singles' ministry in a Baptist church. He wasn't sure at first that he wanted to leave Dallas, which was urban and exciting compared to small, isolated Colorado Springs, but leading his own congregation had always been a dream. And when you're called, you're called.

"I think I really knew all along I would be back here in my home church," he says. "It was a burden/blessing kind of a thing. But when I thought about it, I realized Dallas was even less progressive than the Springs in certain ways, and I felt there was a lot of potential for Colorado Springs."

Reynolds grew up in Emmanuel church. His family lived next door to its pastor, who mentored the young Benjamin and encouraged his early interest in churchly things. When Reynolds's two sisters and four brothers were playing sports, he was often inside preaching to his G.I. Joes. Reynolds got his first shot ministering to the Emmanuel congregation when he was eight years old. At fourteen, he was given his own office in the church basement.

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Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond