A fascinating part of my last 2 years is the amazing number of evangelical and charismatic pastors that I have been able to talk to who feel trapped by the whole ‘open & affirming’ conversation [or same-sex marriage issue for some].
I hear, on a fairly regular basis, that they wish they could be ‘open but not affirming’ or that the whole conversation would just go away and they could just get on with the business of preaching the gospel or making disciples without this cultural pressure to conform to something they are uncomfortable with or even see as wrong.
On the other hand, I have heard from so many gay and lesbian friends about the sheer frustration and agitation at churches saying that everyone is welcome (come as your are) but it really being code for ‘anyone can come and attend but to be fully accepted or empowered will require you to change and conform to be like us.’
The church that I am now pastoring is not just ‘open & affirming’ but it actually a reconciling congregation that advocates for LGBTQ inclusion at every level of church life, ministry, and ordination. You can probably imagine how amazing it feels to be able to say with complete integrity that “everyone is welcome here” and know that it is totally true in this place !
This morning I wrote the following post in prep for the weekend:
You may have seen that Vermont Hills UMC’s tagline is ‘a spiritual oasis’. It has been both fascinating and encouraging to find out how accurate of a description this tagline is.
I’ll be honest: we live in a cynical age and if you are not an accepting and welcoming church, people will grow skeptical of taglines and slogans. You have to be open and affirming of people’s journey and their uniqueness or it will not pass the ‘smell test‘.
It was with great joy that I discovered that VHUMC really is a safe and accepting place – that it lived up to the tagline of being ‘a spiritual oasis’.
Now, no one wants to define themselves by what they are not or what they are against – as tempting as it may be. So we don’t want to state this in the negative or only in contrast to others. We want to be as constructive and as hopeful as possible.
That is why it gives me great joy to be able to say that you are welcome here.
In fact, you are more than welcome – you are wanted!
Part of our transition toward being a conversational community is that we need people of:
- different backgrounds
- different journeys
- different perspectives
- different opinions
- different races
- different genders
- different sexualities
- different religious convictions
- different income levels
- different ages
- different education levels and styles
- different passions
- different giftings
- different phases of life
I am delighted to be able to say this about VHUMC and I look forward to exploring this topic together this coming Sunday.
IF you are a conversational pastor (as I am) THEN you actually want to hear from people of different genders, stages of life, races, religious backgrounds, and sexualities. It is not something to be addressed or overcome … it IS the point and the joy of being in dialogue.
If people just repeat back to you what you already believe – that is called ‘an echo chamber’.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of being a conversational church is accepting that we are not all going to agree about everything … and that is not just ‘OK’ but is a good thing!
Tomorrow I will post part 2 of this idea and ask: ” what would our energy go to if this debate was settled?”