LGBTQ people understand from years of experience that they are unwelcome in most congregations. Since our culture is saturated with the anti-queer rhetoric of religious leaders who claim to represent the only authentic Jewish and Christian positions on homosexuality, a congregation that seeks to become welcoming needs to state clearly and publicly its welcome in order to be heard. A public statement of welcome, therefore, is the best way for queer people in search of a religious community to know that a congregation is welcoming. It also reassures those LGBTQ people already present in a congregation that they are not excluded or relegated to second-class membership.
When the members of the welcoming taskforce, in concert with congregational leadership, believe that their congregation is ready to decide if it will become officially welcoming, they should draw up a statement of welcome and present it to the membership at large for its consideration and approval. In many congregations the governing board may need to approve such a statement before the congregation as a whole votes on the matter. Some congregations may decide to vote after several months of education and discussion while others may need more time. Many congregations celebrate the passage of their welcoming statement in a worship service that ritualizes the decision and confirms the congregation’s ongoing commitment to build a community of care. Print your statement frequently in your congregational newsletter, in your weekly Order of Service, on your congregational website, and in your local news media. Many queer people today go first to a congregation’s website to assess its climate of welcome for LGBTQ folks: if a statement a welcome and inclusion is not easily found on the site, then most people will not risk a visit to a faith community that might be unwelcoming or even hostile.
A well-crafted statement of welcome is brief but clear in its message. It is also one that makes specific mention of LGBTQ people. While some congregations choose to model their statements on those written by denominational advocacy groups, others write their own. Keep in mind that your statement serves not only as a welcome to queer people but also as an ongoing reminder for your entire congregation of its ideals and as a gauge to assess its growth over the years. Below are four examples of welcoming statements from a variety of religious traditions:
- “Sha’ar Zahav is a Jewish community that affirms the sacred in each and every one of us. Rooted in our history as San Francisco’s gay and lesbian synagogue, we offer the warmth and comfort of chosen family. To that end, we embrace a diversity of individuals of all sexualities, genders, races and abilities. We welcome a diversity of families, including single members, interfaith, single-parent, and multicultural families.” Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, San Francisco
- “First United Methodist Church is an inclusive, Christ-centered community of faith. Our mission statement is to welcome all people, to be guided by the teaching and unconditional love of Jesus, and to inspire people to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. We are a Reconciling Congregation, and all persons – without regard to race, sexual orientation, economic condition, or prior religious background – are invited to participate in our ministries and programs, and may become members of our congregation. We want to meet people where they are in their spiritual journey. We seek to link Christian spirituality with concern for justice and the well-being of our community and all creation. We hope to help people cultivate a passionate, compassionate, and thoughtful Christian faith.” First United Methodist Church, Duluth, Minnesota
- “We are a Welcoming Congregation, recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association. This means we affirm and include people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer at every level of congregational life – in worship, in program, and in social occasions – welcoming them as whole people. As a Welcoming Congregation we have pledged to:
- Honor the lives of all people and equally affirm displays of caring and affection without regard for sexual orientation.
- Celebrate diversity by using inclusive language and content in worship.
- Incorporate an understanding of the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons throughout all of our programs, including religious education.
- Affirm and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues and history.
- Affirm marriage equality and conduct same-sex weddings.
- Advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, promoting justice, freedom, and equality in the larger society. We speak out when the rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are at stake.” The Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship [Auburn, Alabama]
- “Third Church is committed to the full participation of all persons in our church community without regard for sexual orientation, personal background, or human condition. Our More Light Committee works on ways to make all of us more aware of the contributions Presbyterian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are making and could make to further God’s Commonwealth.” Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York
Of course, a welcoming statement does not mean that a congregation has completed its work of becoming a community of care for LGBTQ people because such work is continual. However, a statement does send an important and bold message that a congregation has begun to educate itself about queer people and is eager to welcome (more) queer people into all areas of its life.
To Be Continued Next Week!