At Westminster, Completely and Radically Welcomed

“It wasn’t until going to General Assembly last summer that I discovered that the church is not always so LGBTQ friendly,” writes Evangeline Smith, an intern at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wooster, OH, one of MLP’s newest More Light churches. “Not just any church, but my church, the Presbyterian Church. I was shocked. I knew that there were some conservative people who passionately ‘quote’ the Bible and argue against the ‘gay lifestyle’ but I was not fully aware it was widespread, across all denominations.”

When Evangeline approached Rev. Andries “Dries” Coetzee (pictured left) and asked about why Westminster was not More Light, his response was simple: “Lets do it! This is the time!” The welcome Evangeline found at Westminster was a parable about much of her church experience as an LGBTQ young adult in more liberal parts of the church.

I grew up in Madison, WI, which is known for being home to the first openly gay senator Tammy Baldwin. I grew up having dinner conversations about theology, church politics, and creating a more loving church with my pastor father, and seminary grad mother. I have parents who would care much more about the tattoo I got without telling them than they cared about me being gay.

I came out for the first time at church camp. Of all places. I was always taught that the church is a community where it is okay to ask questions, it is okay to challenge ideas, and most importantly that we are all God’s beloved children. I was part of a youth group that talked about political issues surrounding gay rights and discussed in length the role the church plays. When I came out to my youth pastor, she did nothing but smile. The news I was sharing with her was equivalent to sharing any other truth, one that should be celebrated.

Rev. Andries “Dries” Coetzee joined Westminster in March, 2010. Dries, who was born in South Africa, came to Westminster after serving churches in Houston, TX and Bloomington, MN. Dries and his wife Beth were married in November 2000 and have five children, three from Beth’s previous marriage and two boys from Ethiopia whom they adopted in 2007. Dries explains why becoming a More Light church is a reaffirmation of their commitment to LGBTQ people.

PC_USA_RainbowAs a church we believe that reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel message. We believe that Jesus showed us how to live and invited us to celebrate God’s living presence among us as he broke down the walls of hostility that divide and exclude others. As we follow in the ways of Jesus, the great reconciler, we are called to actively restore broken relationships. We are called to affirm LGBTQ people as children of God, able to serve with their full selves in church and society and to give expression to their love and affection in marriage if they so desire.

With this reaffirmation, we also apologize to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and confess our apathy at times. As a congregation we have not always consistently spoken God’s prophetic word against injustice, intolerance, exclusion, and hate, as we have been at times too occupied in saving the church as an institution.  We have often forgotten the words of Jesus; “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

More Light Presbyterians is excited to welcome Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wooster, OH as one of our newest More Light churches. We will continue our faithful work towards the full welcome of LGBTQ people until the Presbyterian Church (USA) and society matches the welcome Evangeline found at Westminster and growing up in the church.

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