Dean Watkins - 2000-07

Your Name

Dean Watkins

Gender

Male

Which describes your role at Mars Hill?

Member

What Mars Hill location(s) did you attend?

Ballard, Lake City / Wedgewood

What years were you involved / attending?

2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

How did you first hear about Mars Hill?

I was working for an architect in Kirkland who I knew to be a Christian also.  I was new to town, so I asked my boss for church recommendations.  He gave me a short list, but sort of highlighted Mars Hill as being different, new, young.  He thought I might like it.  I went to one other church on Mercer Island, and the Pastor meet me and took me to lunch.  I was one of the few "twenty somethings" at his church.  That pastor told me that if he was my age...he would be going to Mars Hill.  So, I went to check it out.

What was the circumstance of your first time attending Mars HIll?

My first service was at the First Hill location.  I remember Mark yelling at the crowd...I don't remember what.  But he pointed at the door, and said something to the effect of "if you don't like it there's the door".  Strangely I was hooked.  I liked that someone was going to preach without a concern for what others thought.

What were your first impressions?

My first impression was that it was weird.  It was darker, and "moodier" than any other church I'd been to.  I wasn't sure if I'd fit in.

Why was Mars Hill your church home?

Mars Hill became my church home because they found a way to build a strong community.  In retrospect, not all bad.  But not all good.  It was a highly insulari environment.  There were lots of ways to connect with people mid-week, and it filled up much of my social world at that time.

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a positive impact on you?

Mars Hill helped me to make friends when I moved to Seattle.  It gave me a place to worship, and it added a sense of community at that time.  There were some periods of growth as well.

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a negative impact on you?

This is difficult.  In some ways even 8+ years later there are negative impacts.  The theology was so lacking of Grace that I still today have to question if my understand of God and Scripture is coming from a place of Love, and Grace...or if the "old voices" of performance and living up to some unattainable standard are speaking up again.  The black and white thinking on top of the lack of Grace was particularly damaging at the time.  And even though I don't think that way now...it feels like it took something from me in a vague way.  Living through that form of spiritual abuse is not quickly forgotten.

What would you like to have changed about Mars Hill?

Mark.  He needed to step aside and repent.  And it's shameful that he never (to my knowledge) seriously acknowledged all of the hurt and pain that was caused by the culture of bullying, and bravado that he created.  I guess it would be appropriate to say, adding Grace to the message.  And there are probably a long list of other things...including but not limited to not having changed the underlying church governance to allow for a better balance of power.  But Mark was responsible for much of those issues.  It was his ship to sink.  

Which describes you?

I left Mars Hill prior to closure.

Please describe why you left Mars Hill and what that experience was like.

My exit from Mars HIll happened when Bent and Paul were fired.  It was clear to me at that point (in I think about 2007) that there was a significant power issue.  It was tough to leave.  It was an environment that felt like, "you are with us, or against us".  Actually the other very weird thing that happened was that at the time that Bent and Paul got fired...everyone was asked to "renew" their membership.  This might not have been so weird except that I clearly remembered a big long monologue from one of the elders (probably Mark) about membership being like a "covenant".  So, if it's a covenant one day...it seemed weird that it required a renewal the next.  After talking to a friend about it, I decided that cancelling my membership was a clue, and I didn't want to be a member at a place where Mark could get rid of anyone who wasn't a "yes man".  

How would you describe the reason for Mars Hill's closure to an outsider.

The tremendous ego of Mark Driscoll caused a culture of bullying, and the failure of most of the other elders to band together and call him out on it.  

What's changed for you since your time at Mars Hill came to an end?

Since leaving Mars Hill I went to another church for about 5 years.  My immediate change was a sense of relief.  The "new church" (was actually much older in age than MH) reminded me of God's Grace in a way that was no longer present at MH.  At this point I am not attending church.  My new church would not allow me to be a member, once I accepted myself as gay.  To be clear, if I was "out" while I was at MH they would not have accepted me either.  My membership there was based on the idea that I wasn't going to date or marry anyone of the same sex.  At this point, I am a Christian, and I'm gay...and I no longer consider those things to be mutually exclusive.  This took a lot of studying and time (and prayer)...but my mental health has improved greatly and I'm sad about all the years I spent trying to fit someone else's mold (at MH) if I stop to think about it for too long.  But I also have a strong sense of who I am as a Believer now...and I'm more in a "progressive" camp...if I had to label it.  

Please write anything else you'd like to add.

I guess I would like to say that there were some years that were good.  At least it seemed that way at the time.  But it was so bizarre and disappointing to see so many people stay, and follow what I started calling the "party line".  My life, health, and faith has only healed and grown since leaving, and I hope the same for all the others that survived this weird experience.  I feel like I survived a cult experience.  I'm really glad that it blew up, and I hope that the others will find the same sort of peace in their lives apart from MH and it's culture.

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