In high school, Rachelle Brown was, admittedly, "a bit of a religious fanatic."
But when she came out as a lesbian, she went away from religion and faith. In fact, her "relationship with religion went farther than south," she said, laughing.
It took her about 12 years to find her way back to religion, and that she did.
She is now the provisional pastor of achurch4me, ordained with Metropolitan Community Churches ( MCC ).
Brown, a Chicago resident, previously was the interim pastor at MCC Illiana in Northwest Indiana during 2008-2011. She has master's degrees in both divinity and communications and is now working toward a Ph.D. in theology, ethics and human sciences at Chicago Theological Seminary.
"I enjoy preaching and enjoy being with people, but I really feel led to teach," she said. "I particularly want to give hope to young people who are trying to live a life of faith."
Brown is a member of American Academy of Religion and a board member for Other Sheep, an organization reaching out to sexual minorities throughout the world.
"Like many who are LGBTQ and just walk away from the church, that's what I did in my late 20s," she said.
But in August 2001, she walked into an MCC church in St. Louis, attending admittedly, "as a scoffer."
She was immediately hooked. "When I walked in, I thought, this is amazing," she said.
Two years later, she was in seminary, doing volunteer ministry.
In 2003, Brown started doing chaplaincy work with perpetrators of domestic violence.
She served in a United Church of Christ ( UCC ) church for a year, and then switched to MCC.
"I kept thinking, 'This is crazy, being an out lesbian, trying to navigate the world of religion and faith.' That was because, I felt, in so many places that I turned, especially in chaplaincy, it was like I had to keep coming out of the closet over and over again.
"But with MCC, it has allowed me to just be myself, not have to name which team I am on at any given time. I could just live a life of spirituality, a life of faith, and not feel like I had to apologize to one group or the other in order to be a person of faith and also be an open lesbian.
"That has fueled me in so many ways."
Truly, Brown has walked an interesting past decadeand she agrees.
"It has been a non-traditional path," she said.
Brown was working at a marketing agency years ago and then one day told her boss that she was going into the seminary, into ministryand gave her resignation.
His reply, with a smile: "Is it so bad that you have to go work for God?"
Brown laughed, too, and told him, "I'm going to take my chances. It's not for the paycheck, but [rather], for the peace of mind at the end of the day.
"That still fuels me today."
Brown's achurch4me, part of the Metropolitan Community Churches, is located in Rogers Park, its home since 2012, after a previous location in Boystown.
About 95 percent of its 50 members are LGBTQ, Brown said.
"When I talk to open and affirming churches, they say that they welcome gay people. I say that's fabulousand we're gay and we welcome straight people. That's the big difference," she said, laughing.
About 75 percent of its members are male, with a mix of white ( about 60 percent ), African-American and Hispanic. The female members are are predominantly African-American and Latina. Members come from Hyde Park on the South Side to the northern suburb of Skokie.
"It's a real interesting mix of people who are involved [with the church, driven by] their passion for this real openness and this real spiritual path mission," she said. "What we're asking people to believe is faith and spirituality. They're doing it and we're doing things in a radical way."
Her church supports World AIDS Day and Transgender Day of Remembrance, among other LGBT-driven events. "There is the queer holy day calendar," she said. "It's just who we are, what we're about."
Brown spoke at the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality in October.
"That was such an incredible moment," she said, "and marriage equality is huge.
"What marriage equality does is, it begins to level the field socially."
Brown said that she will take a portion of the fees for weddings at her church, starting in June, and put it into marriage equality support for other states"because we fought long and hard, and know what it's like, and want to help the next state," she said.
Michael McBride, who has participated in Windy City Gay Idol, is the church's music minister.