This week the United Methodist Church (UMC) held a special conference to address divisions within the denomination over LGBTQ issues. (If you’d like to read further, The Atlantic has a good article.) Once the votes were tallied, the majority voted to toughen the prohibition of same-sex marriages and LGBTQ Clergy serving UMC churches. This could lead to the formation of another Methodist denomination or people/churches walking away from the UMC entirely. It’s a painful process to witness even from the outside looking in.
Though some of the responses from those outside the UMC who are part of LGBTQ affirming denominations have given me pause. People too quickly have said to grieving Methodists to “come on over” to the UCC, the UUA, or the Episcopal Church. It’s too soon to say that. Some may choose to leave. Some may choose to stay and fight. Our job is to be loving and supportive, meeting Methodists wherever they are.
Moreover, it’s important for us to be introspective. The ministers who have the easiest time finding calls in the UCC remain straight married white men with children. Can I quote statistics on that? Nope, but it’s a reality those of us who’ve experienced the Search and Call Process from the inside have witnessed time and again. And are you ready for a little tough love, beloved congregation? Colchester Federated Church became Open and Affirming (the UCC designation) and Welcoming and Affirming (the ABC designation) in 2013. Have we been fully open about who we are in Colchester? Our Welcoming, Open and Affirming Statement is on the front page of our website because I put it there when I built us a new site. There’s been no outward indication on our church building, sign, or grounds that we are who we are for 6 years—even though that is supposed to happen after a church officially becomes Open and Affirming/Welcoming and Affirming.
I had a conversation with Deacons about this months ago. To simply ask a question—we are the only church in Colchester that is outwardly welcoming of the LGBTQ community, how do we let people know about the welcome that is already here? At our February Diaconate Meeting the issue came up again and Deacons decided to get a rainbow “God is Still Speaking,” banner that will hopefully go up soon, right above our front doors.
Now you might be asking yourself why do we have to declare that we are Open and Affirming/Welcoming and Affirming in the first place? We have to because every church says that they welcome everyone. But in reality, they don’t. And when you are part of the LGBTQ community who has dealt with hate from Christians, you look for signs of welcome when seeking a church family. We had a few families in my last church (an Open and Affirming UCC church) who were gay couples with children. When they came to worship with us for the first time, one member of the family would come to scout us out, to make sure that we were who we said we were before bringing their spouse and children to church. Because the wounds of rejection run deep.
On a personal level, I am part of the LGBTQ community as a bisexual woman. I knew my sexual orientation by middle school, but didn’t share with loved ones until college. It felt disrespectful to my then girlfriend to not be open about our relationship. The reactions varied when I came out. From family members in disbelief, sobbing that my life would be harder. To family members saying that they don’t have to tell people they are straight, why should I have to tell people I’m bi? To a family member who told my parents that my “chosen lifestyle” was unacceptable and an embarrassment to our family and they should stop paying for my college education as punishment. (My parents, of course, rejected that spiteful advice.)
So I get what rejection for being who you are feels like, and this makes me understand the importance of letting people know that we are a church who welcomes every.single.person. But the call to be outwardly welcoming can never just come from the Pastor. We’ve talked about this at Diaconate—that we are a Welcoming, Open and Affirming congregation and it’s time that we better communicate that in Colchester. When our rainbow banner goes up, I’m prepared for some folks to not like it very much. I am spiritually prepared for hate to come my way to be totally honest. But I remember the advice to “be the person you needed when you were younger.” And it makes me proud to know that we may well be the CHURCH for someone who needs us. Now they will know more clearly that we are a church of God’s extravagant welcome. Friends, what a beautiful witness in times like these.
(This Week’s Thoughts 2.28.19)