Becoming a Welcoming Church

We are delighted to partner with you as you becoming a welcoming church. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, congregations who wish to formally welcome LGBT parishioners are called Reconciling in Christ congregations. For information about becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation, click here.

 

But even before taking formal steps, your congregation can extend a warm welcome to lesbians, gay men, transgendered persons and bisexuals. How do you do it? In the same manner you welcome any person into your church: look them in the eye, smile, offer a warm handshake. Give them a bulletin, tell them where childcare and restrooms may be found. Invite them to your coffee hour.

 

The best way to welcome an LGBT person into your church is to simply welcome them as a person.Ask about their life, their work, their family.

 

Ask why they were interested in coming to your church. You’ll be delighted to find connections or ways to connect them with other people in your congregation. Chances are likely they have similar interests, work in similar fields or live in similar neighborhoods to you or others at your church.

 

Sexual orientation is rarely if ever the first thing you discuss about straight people, why does it have to be the first thing you talk about with an LGBT person?

 

While this “Coffee Hour Caution” was written as advice for greeting young adults, it’s a great guide to greeting LGBT visitors as well! With gratitude to our Unitarian Universalist friends…

Why should my congregation specifically welcome LGBT people?

 

The Gospel of Christ impels his disciples to extend God’s grace and love to all people — no exceptions. No race or nationality, no tribe, no gender, no one whether saint or sinner is excluded from God’s love. Jesus spent his time with outsiders, excluded and even despised people, and he warned his followers to be wary of the self-righteousness of those who thought they were better than other people.

 

The majority of lesbian/gay people in our country don't have a church-home. Sadly, many also have strong negative feelings about the Christian Church — not about Jesus, but about the Christian Church. Churches have made enemies of the kind of people whom Jesus included in his circle. If we want to imitate Christ, we must do all we can to erase negative feelings, tear down barriers and open ourselves, our hearts and our programs to people who were excluded.

 

Don’t assume that “Everybody is Welcome” is actually heard or believed by people who have felt excluded in the past. If you really want to be involved in your community, and open your doors to all people who are seeking a spiritual home, you need to let your community know that you welcome them, and that your church is not a “private club” for saints.

 

Your neighbors are gay; your neighbors are lesbian. Young people are used to lesbian/gay, bisexual and transgender people in their world — the world as it is today. Whether they are themselves heterosexual, or not, younger people are turned off by any place—any church— that is not welcoming.

 

• Does your church welcome young people, their ideas, their experiences and their friends?

• Do you welcome people in recovery from alcohol, crystal meth or other addictions, and cooperate with 12-Step programs?

• Do you welcome the deaf and hearing impaired, and provide sign language interpretation for them?

• Do you welcome the poor and offer to help them survive these bad economic times?

• Do you welcome people who are different than typical church members? Different color or race, economic bracket, housing situation or family patterns? …who have had different life experiences?

• Do you welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities?

 

If your church can honestly answer “Yes” to any or all of these questions, don’t be afraid to say so in your community. In fact, if your congregation doesn’t say so openly and publicly, no one will believe your private assurances that they really are welcome.

 

Come out! The biggest, riskiest step ever taken by LGBT people is to “come out”—to stop hiding and tell their stories to family, friends, co-workers, and even their church. They are honest wherever others are trustworthy and will honor their integrity. Churches that are worthy of trust will somehow find the way to do the same thing — to “come out” as a welcoming congregation that isn’t ashamed to state its welcome and acceptance publicly.

 

The Reconciling in Christ program was originally created to identify churches which would publicly proclaim their welcome to LGBT people, by adopting an “Affirmation of Welcome”—a public statement that explicitly includes sexual minorities. If your church adopts such a statement, publish it on your website, in print advertisements, in your parish newsletters and bulletins, on your bulletin boards and in your tract racks.

 

 

But what can my congregation do to be welcoming?

 

• Make outreach to the LGBT community one of your mission priorities. Put money in your budget to carry out your mission priorities.

• Let the LGBT community in your area know that your church is friendly and welcoming.• Cooperate with LGBT organizations and institutions in joint community projects.

• Educate yourself and your membership by hearing the issues and the stories which LGBT will share with you. Ask your own youth to educate older members about homosexuality and related issues of sexuality.

• If you are yourself an LGBT person or there is one in your own family, share this with your church.

• Welcome lesbian/gay families, not just individuals, and be prepared to offer ministry in all life situations: baptism, blessing or marrying couples, anniversaries, life transitions, death and grieving.

• Become involved in the Reconciling in Christ program, and ask Lutherans Concerned/ Los Angeles for help and guidance.

• Calendar annual events which may be important to the LGBT community, and draw attention to them in your church life, for example: Gay/Lesbian Pride weekend, National Coming Out Day, Reconciling in Christ Sunday, etc.

 

To sum up, being a welcoming congregation for LGBT people means practicing hospitality every way you can:

 

Hospitality means welcoming people you don’t know. A program of outreach and evangelism is always subject to revision along the way, since it will encounter people and lives and circumstances that no one could foresee. Welcoming people you don’t know happens when the church follows the lead of the Holy Spirit.

 

Hospitality means welcoming people who are different than you’d expect. If we learn to genuinely care about other people, we will come to learn much about their lives, their struggles and triumphs and hardships. Some stories will break our hearts, and some will lift our hearts. The point is, other people will change our lives–and especially–will change the life of the church.

 

Hospitality means receiving people who don’t fit into our conventions, categories or pigeon holes. This may seem fearful to some. If a church is highly homogenous, it may subconsciously or passively resist welcoming anyone who is “different” or mysterious or non-conformist. But our faithfulness to the Gospel is grounded in the faith that God knows all these people before we do, and loves them as they are. Who are we to stand back?