Becoming A More Welcoming Church (Reconciliation in Christ)

Faith story from Cassi Smith

The problem with “welcome” signs on the front of churches is that most churches have them.


And few of them are honest.


While in college I attended a non-denominational, contemporary mega church, which was friendly.

And more importantly, it was where many other students attended.  


A popular perspective for sermons on Sunday morning was that all humans are flawed and must seek forgiveness. One Sunday morning the Pastor stayed along these lines until he preached that marriage was between one man and one woman and that homosexuals must seek forgiveness from God and turn from their sin.


A man in the front row stood up, zipped up his coat and walked down the middle aisle and out the door.


Being an insecure 20 year old, I remained seated and it is one of my more haunting regrets.


Through my college years of course, I gradually cared less and less what other people thought. And I thought more and more about what God would want.


In the gospel text today, the people are surprised that the carpenter is preaching in the synagogue.


And that’s why Jesus presents a problem for me.


Jesus does not stay a carpenter pontificating about God, what peace and justice is and wouldn’t it be nice if these sorts of things happened in the world. No instead throughout the gospel Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman, touching the unclean people, and challenging the theological assumptions that the Pharisees have made.  Not to mention, flipping tables in a temple.


The problem with sitting around listening to your media outlet of choice, thinking that everything is fine because you’re an open minded person and a supportive person to the oppressed is that it misses the point of what Jesus has called his followers to do.


I could sit and listen to NPR, read the New York Times, quietly tell my friends that I’m an LGBT ally.  But that does not do a lot of good.  And it’s certainly not what I’m called to do.


Sure more than 10 years have passed since I should have walked out on that sermon and society has changed.  Marriage is legal, many churches are loving and accepting of the LGBT community, but the narrative of a church that has alienated a segment of society with hate speech has a far longer, and loud and prominent history.


In Seminary I had the opportunity to carry my school’s banner in the Columbus, Ohio pride parade and have marched in others since.


It’s an emotionally powerful thing to do, carry a religious organization’s banner.


Because inevitably there are tears, cheers and “thank yous” from spectators.


And there is anger and frustration when a person with a megaphone is quoting Bible verses and telling you you’re going to hell.  


Unfortunately, the later is the more staying experience with members of the LGBT community since the church repeatedly dismissed a portion of their identity as a sin and an abomination.


And the problem with just being a “welcoming” church without a public welcome to the LGBT community is that it’s like Jesus sitting in the carpenter shop.  He’s not activated in ministry and we’re not activated in reconciling the damage that the church has already done.


So I’m done with sitting and watching the church continue to hurt the LGBT community.


Over the next months I hope you’ll join the Task Force in meaningful dialogue as to what makes a church welcoming to you and how this congregation can become a publicly welcoming place for all.



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