Last year was a pivotal year in the life of Karl Road Christian Church. I cast a vision of naming ourselves the inclusive and welcoming church that we are. What I knew is that we were not ready to do so until we understood what it meant.
What I have learned as a pastor is that all churches think that they are welcoming and they think it is enough that they say so. If we look at any website we will see statements of love and acceptance for all people. And yet there is no specificity about what that means. And often no real conversation about who the “all” includes.
In 2012 our church spent time educating ourselves about racism and homophobia. For six months we showed monthly videos which included: Flag Wars, For The Bible Tells Me So, and Black In America. We had three morning workshops on Listening, Non Violent Communication and Anti Racism. And we had three small groups working through the “Listening to the Spirit” study material.
Last summer our elders put together the following “welcoming statement”
As disciples we are called to love our neighbors as Jesus loves us. We welcome all persons into our faith community to follow Jesus Christ regardless of previous religious affiliation, mode of baptism, gender, race, ethnic background, age, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, mental or physical ability or family configuration
This was brought to the board who accepted it and later presented to the congregation in worship on “Diversity Sunday.” . This statement is now printed in our weekly bulletin. What has also come out of this process is a “Diversity Team” which serves as the group conscience to continue to guide our church to learn and talk and work together so that we can continue to grow in our diversity and our openness.
This past year has been a great blessing to me personally… Often people come to me and ask about the church’s stance on homosexuality. I have always been very open about my own beliefs, theology and Biblical interpretations. Now I can share our welcoming statement and speak for the church. We do not merely tolerate but we welcome the LBGTQ community not only into worship, but into full participation and leadership in the church.
I believe that the two greatest challenges to inclusivity are silence and ignorance. I know that God is not done with us and this process of giving voice and learning needs to continue here. I pray that the church – both the local churches we serve and attend and the larger church – will intentionally encourage conversation and education for all of us.