Tag Archives: Willow Chicago

About Darren Calhoun

IMG_2275.JPGI am Darren Calhoun – beloved by God and a follower of Jesus.  For the past 15 years, I’ve earned a living as an entrepreneur and professional photographer.  My church community is Willow Chicago, the downtown campus of Willow Creek Community Church.  There, I’ve served as a volunteer for eight years in various parts of our arts ministries including leading worship.  At Willow Chicago, our worship team has two paid staff positions and I am part of a team of six volunteer leaders who complement the staff roles.  I love being able to serve our church community in this way.  I also volunteer with other organizations that are working on causes that are close to my heart like anti-violence initiatives in Chicago and racial reconciliation efforts.

I am gay.  As a Christian, I’ve been on a long journey to reconcile the reality of my orientation with the various views that the church world has on the topic of people who are attracted to the same sex. Before coming to Willow, I was part of a church whose leadership promised that I could be ‘healed’ of my same-sex attractions. I spent years seeking God and obeying the leadership of that church – eventually sacrificing relationships with family and friends, quitting college, moving to another state, and living under 24-hour supervision inside the church.  All of this was done in the name of being ‘healed’ and in hopes that I could be accepted by God.  During that time I became more broken and unhealthy than I’d ever been and at times despaired living. I eventually was reminded in scripture that God’s love didn’t look like what I was being subjected to by that church.

I am loved. At Willow I found a community of people who were willing to love me authentically.  I was warmly welcomed by a gathering of believers who reflected a biblical demonstration of God’s unconditional love.  I am surrounded by a community of Christians who are fully committed to loving God and loving one another. In this context I was able to begin a journey of celibacy and prayerfully discerning what that means for my life. This has been a profoundly personal spiritual pursuit to reconcile my deep love for God, his word, and the cards I’ve been dealt.  The decision to be celibate isn’t a quick or easy one and I’m engaged conversations with my church community to see what it looks like to truly support someone who has made this counter-cultural choice.  I think it’s important that we figure out how the church best facilitates lifelong relationship, intimacy, and support for people like me. That’s my journey thus far, but it doesn’t represent the journey of every other believer with the same orientation as mine.

Because of my many experiences and inspired by the stories of other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Same Sex Attracted people, I participate in intentional conversations about how the church can be better for everyone – especially those at the margins or who have been pushed out.  I think this is an important, nuanced, and delicate issue that needs a variety of voices speaking into it.  My perspectives are my own and are not on behalf of my church community. That said, I understand and respect the theology of my church, and the intentional journey our leaders are on to live that theology while being a place of profound love, grace and engagement for the LGBTQ+ community.

I hope to be part of equipping churches so that they are safer and more inclusive places for everyone who matters to God. This is why I’ve chosen to be part of efforts made by organizations like The Marin Foundation, which seeks to facilitate dialog between various people and groups on topics relating to the church and LGBTQ+ communities – groups who might not otherwise listen to one another.  This same value informed my choice to be part of The Reformation Project’s Atlanta Regional Training Conference.  I was invited to the conference to co-facilitate a full-day Academy for Racial Justice workshop. I also had the pleasure of sharing in a panel discussion titled “LGBT 101: starting the conversation” about how to thoughtfully engage in dialog with LGBT people. Lastly, I was part of a panel discussion that took a candid look at how race and LGBT identities intersect. Because I think it’s important to be inclusive of various perspectives and was happy to share my thoughts as a Christian who is black, gay, and celibate. I was happy that I met other Christians at the conference who are on similar journeys as me as well as Church leaders and parents who thought they might be singled out for having a traditional view of scripture on these topics.  We were all welcomed to the table.

So in getting to know me and what I’m about, keep this in mind: everyone has a story.  Through my photography, my social justice and activism, and through my engagement with various faith communities, I try to make stories known and foster compassion. If the church is to be all that Christ calls it to be, then we must love God and love people. It’s difficult to truly love someone you don’t know, but when we get to know their story we set the stage to know and love them like Jesus.

Breakin’ Rules: Living out the Kingdom of God

Jon Klinepeter - photo by S. Bailey © 2010
Photo: Jon Klinepeter - by S. Bailey © 2010

On Sunday, August 15, 2010 – my church,  Willow Chicago welcomed our new Campus Pastor, Jon Klinepeter and his family.  Below are bits of the message he shared with our congregation on Sunday.



The Kingdom of God is not just a future certainty but a present reality.

When we align ourselves with the love of Jesus – we are aligning ourselves with the Kingdom of God.

Every time there was a societal or religious margin that told someone they didn’t belong, Jesus went beyond it. Jesus’ love knew no margin based on background, ethnicity, sin choices… Jesus never met anyone who was beyond his love. There wasn’t a margin that Jesus wouldn’t crash through to show his love for someone.

Love breaks the rules and is somewhat unapologetic about it. It says to religious and social rules “I don’t care!” Choosing the Kingdom of God makes us appear foolish, child-like, dangerous, and unwise. How naïve and crazy Jesus must have looked and felt on the cross.

I want other churches to think we are crazy… because I don’t care what other churches think of us.

If the lost in this city think that we are amazing at loving -then we are living out what God has for us.  If the poor and broken in this city know that our love is not just theoretical in prayer, but is tangible in action, then we are arriving at what God has for us. If the gay community in this city feels first our Love, then we are arriving at the kind of community that God has for us.

To the outcasts, the single moms, the people who are told they don’t matter, the people who live in neighborhoods where they are told that the color of their skin defines what they will ever be, we’re not going to just reach a hand. We will step beyond the margins and embrace them in our Kingdom of Love.

We break all the rules… especially the religious ones. We will infuse the sacrificial love of Jesus into our city.
–Jon Klinepeter


I’m excited about the possibilities of how God will continue to use Willow Chicago.  I’ve only had a few brief conversations with him, but already I see he has a great heart for compassion and reconciliation that is bold and authentic.   If you would like to check out the audio of the full message it can be downloaded or streamed here: The Kingdom of God

Willow Chicago’s First Worship Arts Reception Was A HIT!

WCC_ARTS-2009 Reception PhotoThis summer I attended a workshop at the Willow Creek Arts Conference this Summer.  Jason Hatley of the Journey Church led an AWESOME workshop that was the foundation for this event.   I just wanted to share with you the exciting news about our first Worship Arts Reception.  We had 45 RSVP’s but only 20 of those who RSVP’d showed up.  However we had 60 people come to the reception unregistered totaling at LEAST 80 in attendance.  The room was PACKED!


A few things that I think worked for us:
Continue reading Willow Chicago’s First Worship Arts Reception Was A HIT!

Sharing My Story

Darren\'s first time singing with Willow ChicagoSunday was the close of the 3-week series on “Desire: the double edged swords of money, power, and sex”  at Willow Creek.  Before every service we have a time of prayer in the back.  I wasn’t there Saturday night, so Sunday morning was my first time hearing the message – and I was nothing but tears through every song.  So before the last service, I asked to share a my testimony with the group during prayer time.  I didn’t get out all the details that I wanted to, but I’m inspired to share some of it here.

For me, this service basically marks a year of me singing with Willow Chicago.  My first time singing was with the Chicago choir at Barrington for the Wednesday night New Community service in the summer of 2007.  That day we sang “I Just Can’t Give Up Now” and it was the beginning of me becoming part of the Willow Family.

In our prayer time today, I shared that when I came to Willow I wasn’t looking for a church home.  I was hurt and broken from the rejection / abandonment I received at my previous church due to my struggles with sexual sin.  I’d gone to them for help when things became out of control… and though I did all that they asked I do to “get free” – I wasn’t getting healed fast enough, or the way they expected.  It eventually caused them to exclude me from ministry.  This happened rather abruptly and little discussion and no follow-up.  The way things happened left me feeling hurt and bitter and out of fellowship for a year before I started seeking another place to be connected to the Body of believers.  I didn’t want to not be in church, I was just too hurt to go back to what was then my church.  This is when I decided to check out the church I’d seen billboards for on the L Train Platforms: Willow Creek Chicago.

From day one it seems I was connecting with a new and wonderful church, but the question still remained: would I be rejected again if they knew my battle? (and my failures?) I didn’t want to be a part of another church where it would have been better to hide and stay in the dark than to expose the truth and live in the Light.  So I told Pastor Steve and the ministry leaders about my issues.

I was received with care and with love.  Steve saw that I needed to be involved in Worship because of how life-giving it was for me.  The ministry team rallied around me in support and love – even thanking me for my transparency and openness!  To this day their love amazes me and encourages my faith in the difficult process of healing and change.

I still struggle (daily), but I’m no longer struggling with the need to prove my spirituality or spiritual growth to anyone.  I don’t feel the pressure to keep up some facade just because I’m ‘a minister’.  I feel like I can truly connect with the people I worship with and love and be loved.  I feel the amazing effects of God’s grace.  I’m learning how to form healthy relationships that in a Godly way fill the voids in my heart.  I’m getting the wise council that I yearned for, but could not find.  I’m even experiencing small victories and seeing patterns and habits change.

I’m in a difficult season right now as well.  I’m JUST learning about my needs for validation and approval.  Learning about unsafe places where I’ve sought safety and security in the past, and beginning to take steps to build more healthy and safe relationships and repair old ones.  I’m seeing my thought patterns that for ages have kept me bound by fear and limited my potential socially, financially, emotionally, and relationally.  It’s so difficult for me sometimes when I look at ALL that needs to be fixed right now. But I try to stay focused on one thing at a time, keep encouraged, and bit-by-bit open up more to those God has placed around me so I don’t have to face this thing called life alone.

Maybe someone reading this is down or needs encouragement.  To you I say: keep smiling, not because it just looks good but because eventually it’ll all be good and you have a great and eternal hope in God.  (Ok… that was really for me but I just thought I’d share! 😉 )

My Big Weekend at Willow Creek in South Barrington

The view from stage rightTHANK YOU LORD! It’s been another wonderful weekend of worship at Willow Creek Community Church.  This weekend, Steve Wu – Willow Chicago Campus Pastor, and our entire music team went lead worship at the Main Campus in South Barrington, Illinois.  This was a great opportunity for me.  This is the first time that a regional campus has lead worship on the main stage at Barrington.  The Chicago campus is only a year and a half old, but God has grown the church tremendously and as we mature the Lord is using us to shake things up at Willow Creek.

THEY HAD EVERY DETAIL!!!! The Barrington Church gave us such a warm welcome.  They went so far as to build a life-size EL train platform!   It was beautifully realistic and detailed – even down to the no-smoking and warning signs!  Dinner was provided in the green room for the entire team before the Saturday night service and breakfast for the two Sunday morning services.  One of the Barrington worship leaders lead us in a song for prayer sparked a blaze of worship and hearts open for God through the entire weekend.  Literally, as each of the services progressed, there was a greater and greater passion that was building in all of us!

Senior Pastor Bill Hybels mentioned in the services that Willow Creek is becoming a singing church and that as a congregation the worship this weekend would be a deffinate time to experience that!  Willow Creek in the past has been a place where participation was very optional, however, things are shifting to being much more participatory –  especially in the form of congregational singing!  It has been my heart to see people liberated in worship… God has touched Hybels’ heart with that same vision and I’m eager to see more and more people giving praise with ALL that they have within them.

Willow Chicago will be leading worship in Barrington for two more weeks, and I pray that God will use us to spiritually set the church on fire with a passion for worship that can’t be quenched!!!