Last week, four members of our congregation — Sharon Powers Smith, Robin Carlson, Lisa Boyles and Pastor Ara Guekguezian — visited our neighbor, Hope Lutheran Church, on Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Their congregation is going through the process to consider becoming Reconciling in Christ (RIC), the Lutheran Church’s equivalent to our denomination’s Open and Affirming process (a public covenant welcoming into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions). We were invited to share our experience about making that change in our church’s fabric in 1998.
We spoke to one of Hope Lutheran’s adult education classes. About 15 people heard our stories and recollections from that period. They asked us questions — many of the same questions we had when we went through the process.
“Listening to their concerns and fears reminded me of us 20 years ago,” Robin said. “I think it was helpful for their church to hear that we had those same fears and concerns and that we listened to our Still Speaking God and chose to walk in the ways of justice and love. We chose to become an open and welcoming church and we are still here, still doing church 20 years later.”
Sharon described the steps we took on our own journey, led by our co-pastors at the time, the Reverends Gail McDougle and David Brown.
First, we did a book study of “What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality” by Daniel A. Helminiak. Then Gail and David led four congregational meetings after worship on Sundays. The first two were biblically based, reviewing some of what we covered in the book study.
The third week was a powerful discussion with two children of our church — a young man and woman who told us what it was like to grow up coming to terms as a gay man and lesbian woman.
One question that comes up during this process is, “Why do we have to go through this? We are open and welcoming. Why do we have to take this official step?” But hearing from children who grew up among us disputed that, telling us that our informal acceptance didn’t feel very accepting at all.
The final week of those sessions was decision time. After going through the process — all of which took more than a year — we had to decide where to go from there.
The thing about going through all this turmoil is that you are going to lose some people either way. Some will leave if you go through with it, but if you don’t, after all that, some will decide that they can’t abide with staying if we can’t grow.
“We acknowledged the cost of faithful following as well as the cost in merely entering into the discussion,” Pastor Ara said. “The aim is not to make everyone happy, but to faithfully fulfill God’s will for God’s people.”
Some of the discussion at Hope Lutheran centered on what a different place we, as a nation, are in now compared to where we were 20 years ago. But that societal progress is not set in stone.
Lisa brought up President Trump’s recent move to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people. Our country may be a different place than it was in 1998, but in today’s political climate, the presidential administration is taking us backward every day. It’s more important than ever to take a stand for what’s right.
The Hope Lutheran members we spoke to seemed very appreciative of our viewpoints as they weigh this step for their congregation.
“Hearing from one another from different places on the journey of faith was a great blessing to me,” Pastor Ara said. “As the four folks from Community shared our story and engaged in dialogue as questions were asked and answered, it was clear that the Holy Spirit continues to move in a powerful way among bodies and hearts that are open.”
Hope Lutheran’s congregation will take this issue to a congregational vote on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Let us hold them in our prayers as they thoughtfully consider this step.
~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications/marketing liaison for Community UCC