A rainbow scarf around my neck and 100 rainbow hearts emblazoned with "Jesus Loves Me" in hand, I set out for my first ever Gay Pride Parade. I expected a jovial and supportive crowd in New Paltz. I expected lots of support and rainbows. I also wondered about the possibility of a non-supportive protest—there was none. I wondered about the refusal to accept my small sticker gifts—there was none.
What I did not wonder about and what I did not expect was the incredible longing to hear which local churches are supportive of gay members!
As we marched along, I ran to the side-lines handing out stickers, and said, “Clergy and churches supportive of gay inclusion.” Family after family, and person after person stopped me from walking on with the question, “Where? I’m looking for an open church for my family. Where can I go?”
The first time I was asked the question I was taken aback with surprise. The second time, I thought, “Wow, how nice.” By the 7th time I was feeling deeply humbled and painfully aware that I was surrounded by a deep spiritual starvation. I wanted to put my arms around everyone and hold a big Bible Study right on the side-walk. I wanted to scream from the MC’s mic: "Yes, God loves each and every one of you and yes, there are churches in the area that will support and love you too!"
In church circles we talk about the loss of religious responsibility in America and about people who don’t care about God and church.
We tend to lament things like loss of membership, sports on Sundays, and decreasing numbers in the pews, but we rarely, if ever, wonder about the ways in which the church itself is responsible for the very things we lament; of how the church itself is keeping people from actively engaging the spiritual journey in Christian community! Yet, here I was, running along a parade route responding to the same question over and over again; here I was telling people where they could worship with an open community on a Sunday morning!
Now, to be sure, I am not sure how many of those who asked the question were simply being polite to a grey haired lady handing out stickers! But there were many who asked the question and many who expressed surprise that such churches existed within their community.
In Christian circles the topic of inclusion raises fearful questions like, "Who will leave the congregation if we are welcoming to gays?"
Perhaps it is time to joyfully engage the question, "Who will join our church if we are open and welcoming to gays?"
All along the streets of our towns and cities there is a hunger for Christian Word and community; a hunger to engage the scriptures and spiritual journey; a hunger for righteousness and understanding. It is time for the church to repent of its fears and its lament and to open every door with joy and wonder at the new thing the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst.
Visit our Welcoming Church Map to find a welcoming church community near you!
Photo via Marilyn Paarlberg