PRIDE: A Divine Surprise Party

By Trent Clifford

The very fact that I’m writing this blog post is insane.

No, really.

By the time I graduated from seminary, I was pretty certain that I would never be a minister, at least not in any traditional sense of the word. I couldn’t picture myself on a church staff. I couldn’t even picture myself stepping into a church.

The past four years had been riddled with people asking me if my “friend” and I would be at church the following week—never mind the fact that we wore wedding rings and shared a last name. They’d also been riddled with other people encouraging me to stay with that “friend,” even after I’d told them stories about the abuse I was quietly enduring at home.

When I came out as gay, all of the good Christian kids with whom I’d grown up turned their back on me. When I wore a wedding band into my seminary hallways, people decided it was better not to ask. After all, “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” And then, some of the few people who did accept my marriage to another man told me to stay with that man, even when it was clear he was mistreating me. 

Yes, by the time I graduated seminary, I had a hard time even understanding why I’d gone at all.

By the time I graduated, I’d found myself a professional theatre-maker. I was a director and producer, starting my own nonprofit theatre company and finding some pretty immediate success. It was creative, fulfilling and, most importantly, safe. In the world of theatre, I found a home where I could bring the whole of myself without judgment. No one cared that I was gay. And half of them didn’t even know my husband, so they had no stake in my remaining married or not. 

By now, some of you are wondering… where’s the hope?

Don’t worry, I’m getting there. Because the fact of the matter is, I am writing this blog post. 

The version of myself from even a couple of years ago would never have guessed it… Honestly, the version of myself from even this time last year would never have guessed it. 

But God did what God does best, and my life has been made full by Divine surprise. 

This newest chapter of my story starts 2 ½ years ago, when I finally left my ex-husband. It took me years to understand what was happening, but when I left, I realized that I was a survivor: a survivor of domestic violence who needed to reclaim my life. 

So I did. 

I spent the next year reclaiming all the parts of my life that he had taken from me. I quit the second job I’d taken to keep us afloat, reclaiming my free time. I threw away the pictures and the decor that filled my house that reflected his tastes rather than mine, reclaiming my home. I supplanted old memories of him by taking dear friends to my favorite restaurants and park benches, reclaiming those places and activities that felt important to me. 

And a year after I managed to escape, I felt myself inhaling deeply once more, breathing in the newness of all that my life had once again become, but something was missing.

At first, I didn’t know what it was. All I knew was that there was this nagging feeling deep inside me that there was something else I needed to reclaim. God often lives inside of those nagging feelings, I’ve come to find out. 

This PRIDE, I’m reminded that we worship a God of surprises, and accordingly, I am choosing to worship God this month by allowing myself the pleasure of being surprised. 

What I came to realize was that while I may have reclaimed my life in the aftermath of an abusive marriage, I hadn’t reclaimed my faith in the aftermath of an abusive spirituality.

I’d divorced my ex-husband. That was my choice, but the church had divorced me, and that had been anything but my choice.

I’d been made to feel sinful, less-than, and unable to fulfill my calling, and those were things that I had never truly come face to face with. Faith, it turns out, is a bit more nebulous a thing to reclaim than the tangible specifics of one’s life. And yet, I was certain that there were lessons I’d learned along the way that I could apply.

And goodness, was I right.

When I decided to figure out what it meant to reclaim a faith that had hurt me so deeply, I knew from the start that it was a journey I wanted to chronicle. Little did I know at the outset of that journey that the chronicling would become a book. A book that would be picked up by the first publisher who read the manuscript. A publisher who would want to rush the release of that book so that it was available for PRIDE month of 2024. That’s right, Reclaiming Faith: Learning to Reimagine Church, God, and Ourselves was published just this month.

But that wasn’t at all what I imagined when I sat crying cross-legged on my bed, a long-neglected Bible in front of me and a journal in my hand. It wasn’t even what I imagined when I decided to turn these words into a book. At first, it was simply something I knew I needed to do. I had no expectations around the ways it would lead to me reclaiming the ministerial calling God had placed on my life.

The book is a culmination of this journey in so many ways. It’s a deeply personal memoir that doubles as a highly instructive how-to. 

What started out as me hoping to reclaim my faith at a personal level has become a guide for the many of us who have been hurt by the church. The words that began as a way of processing my personal healing have become a means by which I hope we can achieve a level of communal healing, sharing in my journey together.

And lo and behold, my journey isn’t yet over. Here I am, writing a blog post for Alliance of Baptists, for crying out loud. This summer and fall, I’ve been invited to share from a number of pulpits—something I frankly never thought I would do again, despite my deep love of preaching—and none of it would be possible without this book. It has opened doors, and hopefully hearts.

In many ways, I’m still figuring out what it means to step back into this role of minister—that is, the role of minister in a more official capacity than I’ve allowed myself to consider in quite some time. 

I still may never be on staff at a local congregation, but I have started to suspect that I will share with many congregations in a variety of ways—as a writer, a speaker, a spiritual director, and a deeply imaginative reader of Scripture.

It’s safe to say that PRIDE month this year has brought with it a host of surprises. But it all started with that internal nagging in my soul, that Divine voice that said, “Are you sure you’re done reclaiming?

This PRIDE, I’m reminded that we worship a God of surprises, and accordingly, I am choosing to worship God this month by allowing myself the pleasure of being surprised. 

Trent Clifford is an award-winning playwright and theatre-maker as well as the author of Reclaiming Faith: Learning to Reimagine Church, God, and Ourselves. He is lover of words with a passion for imaginative preaching and speaking, and he is a spiritual director whose focus is creative spirituality and healing from spiritual trauma. His weekly newsletter, ReWriting Faith, is a source of encouragement, inspiration, and community for those who subscribe. He brings together his love of theatre, writing, and spirituality in all of his work, which seeks to creatively and kindly push boundaries and challenge status quo. More about Trent and his work can be found at

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