Doesn't all mean ALL?
This past week Pastor Nate and I received an email from a congregation member who shared some questions with us regarding the Reconciling in Christ process. We were so grateful to receive these questions! These questions were really helpful, and came from a place of curiosity and love. As we engage in conversation about whether or not we want to be recognized as a Reconciling in Christ congregation, important questions like these are a wonderful and helpful way to engage in dialogue with one another.
With permission from the person who emailed, I am sharing below our responses to these questions, as I'm guessing many others might have these same questions as well. Pastor Nate and I are truly, deeply grateful for the person who asked, and we (along with the Reconciling in Christ core team) would LOVE to be in conversation with you.
Question: What exactly does it mean to be a Reconciling in Christ congregation?
Response: It’s not so much a training, as a conversation/dialogue to officially be recognized as a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation…more so a credential. Perhaps – think about it a little bit as a classification of congregations: there are catholic churches, Lutheran churches, Missouri Synod Lutherans, ELCA Lutherans, then WITHIN and still very much part of the ELCA there are Reconciling in Christ congregations. These are congregations that have had direct and open discussion on how they practice welcome and inclusion in their churches. Though there may be some training, education, and discussion through the process, really what we’re contemplating is whether or not we at Christ the King would like to be a Reconciling in Christ congregation.
It seems to me that the tag line, “…where all are welcome”, says it all.
Response: Yes. When we say all are welcome, you and I know that we actually mean ALL. The tricky part about that though, is the words "all are welcome" are used by just about every church, including churches who actively believe that people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community are sinful, unworthy people, (aren’t we all?) and those churches do not accept them or welcome them. If they DO welcome LGBTQIA+ folks, those churches also expect them to change and to be straight. As horrific as that sounds, I have met first hand people who were faithful, gifted, and actively serving in their churches and nobody had a problem with that. But…as soon as they realized or came to terms with the fact that they are gay, then came out, their churches kicked them out. Those churches also regularly told the public that all are welcome…turns out they didn’t actually mean that.
I don’t understand why we have to “apply” for possible training in making all welcome.
Response: as I mentioned before, it’s not so much an application or a training we are applying for. It’s about making a clear statement that we welcome and affirm those of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and races.
Do we have to learn how to do things differently in order to be dubbed inclusive?
Response: The interesting and unique thing about our congregation is that NO…we actually don’t have to DO anything differently. What’s missing for us is the intentional and open conversation about our inclusiveness of the LGBTQIA+ community, and the official, public, and open welcome for them. Believe it or not, this is actually unique just to our congregation – most congregations have this conversation first, THEN they introduce some practices to stand behind it. Becoming an RIC congregation really is the next natural step for us.
Things we already DO/practice that make us particularly well fit into officially be an RIC congregation:
We have a gender neutral bathroom available for those who need it. It’s the single-stall bathroom located back by the kitchen that’s always been there, however a gender-neutral/all-gender restroom sign was added to it to pass an inspection when we did the renovation, and the sign’s been there ever since. Just having this ONE bathroom designated as a gender-neutral space, creates safe space for those who need it.
We use expansive language for God and refer to God as more than just HE in worship—we use all kinds of words to describe God.
We offer the hospitality of pronouns and work to create safe space for people to openly share their pronouns
We ask for preferred pronouns on all youth and adult registration forms so that people KNOW we will honor their pronouns if they prefer something other than he/him, or she/her
we will marry a same-sex couple here
We live by our core values (voted on by the congregation in 2019), and we list them on our website. One of those core values is: Being Welcoming and Inclusive We fearlessly extend Christ's love & radical welcome to all people and affirm their worth & dignity (regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or class.)
Are we currently engaging in behaviors that are not inclusive?
Response: To my knowledge: NO. BUT….I’m also not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The more we learn about people and what helps them feel safe and connected to God, the more we’ll be able to live into being MORE inclusive.
And… if we aren’t accepted into or don’t choose to engage in this process, is CtK labeled: “not welcoming – don’t go to church there”?
Response: YES, this is certainly possible. In general, members of the LGBTQIA+ community do not get warm and loving vibes from Christian churches. Unless a church specifically states that they are welcoming and affirming, then they assume ALL churches are unwelcoming. Think of it like the “green book” that existed back in the days of segregation. Folks from the African-american community needed to carry a green book with them that listed all the restaurants, shops, churches, etc. where it was safe for them to be. If it wasn’t in the green book, they assumed they were not safe there. Being listed as an RIC community is like the green book of churches for the LGBTQIA+ community. It tells folks in the community they are safe, and they will be loved and valued for exactly who they are in RIC congregations.
Another question that wasn't asked, but I sense *might* be a concern: Do we really need to talk about this? Because it seems we could divide our congregation and lose people over it. Again – I’m not sure if that’s a lingering question for all of you, but I’ll share with you openly that this is a question that has gone through MY mind.
Response: We live in a very divided world, and the last thing any of us need or want is to create MORE division—that truly would be a shame and is 100% NOT the intention of this process. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the radical hospitality and love we see modeled in Jesus. Everything Jesus taught pointed to being more and more inclusive of people. Unfortunately we live in a world where the LGBTQIA+ community has been so marginalized and othered, that many churches no longer see them as worthy as being included in the radical grace and mercy of God. In fact, churches historically use 6 verses out of the ENTIRE bible to justify this exclusion…and none of those verses are quotes of Jesus’. Rather—Jesus speaks mostly about loving our neighbors. By just talking about this as a congregation, we are doing the best we can to be faithful to God, and to love like Jesus loved. It might be that we’re NOT ready to be formally recognized as an RIC congregation…and that’s okay, but at least we’ve openly talked about it with our faith at the center of the congregation.
Some will (or already have) walk away from the congregation just because we’re having this conversation at all, and at the same time others will be (and have already started) coming to our congregation because of our practices, and our core value we list on our website. In looking toward the future as well, there will come a day when Christ the King will be tasked with calling new pastors. Seminary students these days tend to be a lot less straight, and a lot less cis-gendered than they use to be, so this is also preparing Chris the King to consider if they would ever call an LGBTQIA+ pastor, or a pastor of color. Having these conversations NOW, while there are called pastors here, helps prepare the way for new pastors in the future.