I am counting down the days until many within our More Light family come together in Tucson for our national conference. I’m excited that I will get to meet so many incredible advocates for LGBTQ welcome in our denomination. I am particularly excited that this year we will be offering a full day workshop of the Building an Inclusive Church training.
Before I began my time with MLP, I had the honor of traveling around the country leading Building an Inclusive Church workshops through the Institute for Welcoming Resources training participants from all denominational backgrounds how to lead a process towards LGBTQ welcome that ultimately unites congregations rather than divides them. One group came to a training from a congregation that had already declared itself to be welcoming, but during the course of the training heard from one of the beloved members of the group that he hadn’t felt comfortable speaking openly about his sexual orientation. Others of the group were not even aware that he was gay.
One of the aspects I appreciate most about the Building an Inclusive Church training is the invitation to reflect on how our congregations can continue to increase our welcome for LGBTQ people. As this group taught me, even if a congregation has declared itself to be welcoming of all people, it doesn’t mean that all people do feel welcome there. The Building an Inclusive Church toolkit, a step-by-step guide on how to facilitate a welcoming process in your congregation, includes “We’re welcoming, now what?” a checklist for congregations that have already become More Light to assess where they might find room to further their welcome.
For this young man, a statement in the Sunday bulletin hadn’t changed the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ culture he experienced in his congregation. However, after spending two days learning about how to tell their stories, listen to those who may not yet be ready to fully welcome LGBTQ folks into their churches, and build relationships across their community, this young man decided he was ready to tell his story to his congregation. The following Sunday happened to be the annual celebration of the congregation voting to become welcoming. That day, this young man walked to the microphone and shared his journey with those gathered. After he finished, the whole congregation leapt to their feet in a standing ovation.
I listened to the story of his bravery with tears in my eyes; this is exactly what we are working for as we build a church that reflects God’s heart. This week our newsletter is chock full of stories of congregations and people going above and beyond to demonstrate their welcome to LGBTQ people or the stranger in their midst: from border ministries in Arizona, to the National Cathedral’s service honoring LGBTQ youth affected by violence, to the story of Westminster Presbyterian Church becoming a member of the More Light family. I am filled with gratitude that our MLP National Conference will get to spotlight local congregations doing amazing ministries with immigrant communities, spark conversations about same-gender marriage in our denomination, feature transgender people sharing our stories, highlight LGBTQ aging concerns, and provide concrete ways to help increase our congregations welcome and inclusion of all people.
If you can’t join us this year, be sure to check out one of the upcoming Building an Inclusive Church trainings listed below. All are welcome and I would be happy to talk to you more about whether this workshop is a good fit for you and your congregation. Looking forward to seeing you soon and strengthening our ministry together.
Yours on the journey,