A Welcome Part of the Whole

Tandy Wood, a member of Saint Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, KS, shared this testimony at a Welcoming Church Event in February 2014.

Happy to have opportunity to talk with you today about WHAT IT HAS MEANT TO ME TO BE IN AN OPEN AND AFFIRMING CHURCH.

Of course, I’ll be coming from an elder generation perspective and a time when most of us who were in what is now known as the “LGBTQ” world, (particularly those of us who were employed) were “closeted gays or lesbians”, out only to a trusted few.

It was not a great way to live. We did not really feel part of or interact with the people we had previously socialized with for many years. That “closeted world” was full of tension and big holes, one of the deepest of which was the lack of a community where you did not have to have “secrets”, could be respected, and could be yourself.

Karen and I spent many, many years of our relationship without any church affiliation or even attendance. We were fairly certain we wouldn’t feel comfortable or be welcomed back into organized religion. But it was missing from our lives.

Around the year 2000, we decided to try a couple of churches who were reportedly “welcoming” but those ended up being “love the sinner, hate the sin” type of experiences. We also went to a church for a little while near where we lived that had some classes and other activities and programs designed for gays and lesbians.

Recognition of the fact that the church DID have some LGBT attendees was a good thing, but we didn’t want to be separated out. We knew there were several churches in the Kansas City area whose primary identity was “Gay and Lesbian” but that wasn’t where our comfort zone was either. We did not want to be labeled and put into a particular box. We wanted to be who we were as part of a diverse “whole”.

Then we heard from a like-minded friend that there was a church called “Saint Andrew” over in Olathe that had a really good female preacher so we decided … what the heck… let’s try that one.

When we got there, however, we discovered that “the star” was not there that Sunday and that the sermon was going to be delivered by a “very mature” white gentlemen. Darn!

Well, we stayed anyway and were we ever glad we did!

The sermon that morning delivered by Ian McCrae was fabulous and, in addition, at the “Joys and Concerns” portion of our service, a young woman stood up and asked for prayers during the week ahead stating that she and her partner were going to be sharing the book “Heather Has Two Mommies” at their child’s school the following week.

Wow! We couldn’t believe that was voiced for all to hear and that people would be praying for and supporting them in that courageous step!

After the service we were greeted SO warmly. There was a very welcoming aura in the sanctuary and the Hearth Room. We were cautiously optimistic that maybe we had found the place for us. We had stumbled upon a church whose bulletin had a Shalom Statement printed in it, one with a particularly appealing and intriguing second paragraph which read: “Celebrating our diversity, rejoicing in our unity, we welcome and affirm all children of God of any color, class, sexual orientation, age, gender, ability, or thought.” Right there, upfront, affirmed, in writing.

We were treated as “same as” from the moment we walked in. We didn’t have to guess whether or not we would be accepted if people really “knew about us”. We experienced the welcoming, open position of Saint Andrew from the start, in multiple ways. We had found our “church home”!

It was October, 2000 when we first walked through the doors of Saint Andrew . We’ve been here ever since. By the end of that year, we’d decided to become “official” members of the church and on December 10, 2000, we walked up to the front, together, and joined Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as a couple! It was a huge step for us, made possible only because of the wonderfully open and accepting church we now were a part of.

One more thing I’d like to share with you. It’s about a small, relatively insignificant incident that happened to me shortly after we had joined. One Sunday at Saint Andrew I came to church alone, without Karen. After service, a male member of the congregation came up to me and asked, “Where’s your partner today? Did she decide to sleep in?”

A throw-away line, just a casual, simple question, but it made an indelible imprint on me. “Where’s your partner today?” became a symbol to me of what and who this church really is. Here was a nice, cool, traditionally married man asking a question of me that he would have asked of any heterosexual couple with just a single word change. He could have asked “Where’s your wife today?” Or your husband? Or, your partner…. because they all mean the same at Saint Andrew.

We have been here now for 14 years. It is the center of our spiritual and social lives. It’s where we feel more than just “accepted”. It’s where we feel whole, enriched, loved, supported, included, “at home” and “one” with those around us. It is our faith community in every sense of the phrase.

And, if we hadn’t had the overt welcome in words as well as actions, it undoubtedly would have taken a lot more courage as well as considerably more time before we felt that we could comfortably and safely step forward and be an integral and loved piece of this place of grace where, “All are Welcome” truly means “All”!