I was at a local diner (the kind where the waitress knows your name and your order before you open your mouth) seated across from a long time advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) inclusion in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Time and again throughout his career he had been one of the first to speak out, to risk his ordination credentials in order to publicly support LGBTQ people’s ordination and welcome in our denomination. Now he was a serving as a teaching elder at Bethesda Presbyterian Church (Facebook), which has been More Light for a few years, but was still working on how to live that witness in their community. One of the questions he asked me was:
How can he and his congregation attract more
LGBTQ people to attend their church?
At first we started talking about the church website and the Sunday bulletin. Was their welcoming statement visible and printed every week? Of course it was, so then we talked about Facebook and other forms of social media they might use. But then I reflected, what is the number one reason I feel comfortable bringing my queer or transgender fabulous self anywhere? Word of mouth or personal recommendation. As a person who stood out for many years because the disconnect between my body and my gender identity felt glaring, a recommendation from someone I trust is a huge relief and helps me feel welcome when I walk into a doctor’s office or a church.
While I agree that a good social media presence or printed welcoming statement in a bulletin is helpful to communicate this message, I believe that we are best messengers of the kind of welcome our congregations can offer. I think as progressive, LGBTQ-affirming Christians, we long for that one moment where we can visibly prove that we practice what we preach. In some ways tools like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have offered us this tantalizing opportunity. We can stare into our camera, or our keyboard, and offer a blanket statement of welcome to all. This is a good start, but as More Light churches, I think we have the opportunity to deepen our witness by connecting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in our communities who still may not know that our congregations welcome us in the fullness of our identities.
I encouraged the minister I was meeting with that day to find ways to get involved in local LGBTQ activities and advocacy, and to discover the ways the ongoing social justice ministries of his church could intersect with the lived realities of LGBTQ people’s lives. For example, for a church involved in economic justice, there are ways to connect with how many transgender people are living below the poverty line due to discriminatory hiring practices and to highlight these realities in some of the programming the church offers.
The past few weeks, I have continually been inspired by how our More Light churches and members are standing up for LGBTQ people in our congregations and communities. I am excited by the opportunity to have conversation about how we can deepen our witness and welcome, and I am encouraged that many folks are willing to live that welcome boldly and visibly. In our movement to bring LGBTQ welcome and equality into the world, our work towards inclusion is defined less by one Sermon on the Mount, but in the everyday ways we show up alongside those at the margins to break bread together.