News from AllianceQ: January/February 2020
"Imagining the Possibilities": A Story of Welcome
*contributed by Alysha Laperche, AllianceQ Ministry Intern
When I got to seminary, I was burnt out on church. Prior to beginning an MDiv program, I had been serving on staff at a large, evangelical church in the Sacramento area. There were many tenuous moments during my time there, as my theology evolved and I was learning to affirm my own identity. As a bisexual person serving on staff at a non-affirming church, the most difficult dynamic was the harsh reality that I absolutely had to stay closeted to stay safe and to stay employed. When I look back and think about it, this experience was a resounding echo of almost every church experience I had up until that point. The messaging at this church and so many other churches was clear: I could only serve, lead, be a member, and participate fully in the life of the church if I were straight.
So, when I got to seminary, I was burnt out on church. But I was craving a close-knit community. This led me to accept the invitation of one of my classmates to attend Gathering Desire – a small, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) plant on our campus. That night, one of my new friends delivered the sermon. I had come out to her earlier that week, and she responded with a warm smile and by saying, “me too!”. As she spoke the homily, she looked around and made eye contact with each of us, saying: “You are loved by God”. This moment stopped me in my tracks and brought me to tears. In that small room, surrounded by a few other seminary students, I experienced church in a new way. I experienced the almost-palpable impact of welcome. I felt myself start to believe, for the first time, that this could be true: I could be LGBTQIA+, and be loved by God.
These dynamic moments of connection are the energy behind the mission of setting a place at the table for people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations. We imagine the possibility of the creation, support, transformation, and expansion of these spaces of welcome. We work so that many more folks might experience the belonging that I have found. We pursue this mission so that many more folks might experience a story of welcome, to do a new thing in the place of their stories of un-welcome.
All spaces of welcome, in their many forms, are conduits for love and opportunities for healing.
When we contribute to this work, the gifts we give are not simply transactional; they are transformational. We give so that people who have been hurt; people who are burnt-out on church; people who are not really sure if they have a place at the table; people who are not really sure if they are loved by God; people like me; might have a personal experience of welcome and belonging. As Disciples, as a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, we give because we understand that we are called to extend welcome and offer belonging to others; just as we belong because welcome was first extended to us.
Do you have a “story of welcome” that illustrates how you have found welcome and belonging? How did a person or congregation extend its welcome and how can others help widen the welcome?
How can churches work to replace stories of unwelcome with stories of welcome?