About two years ago, I received an email from a man who was new to the area. He told me that he had examined my church’s website and seen that we were not a Reconciling Congregation (intentionally welcoming of glbt persons), but that he and his partner and their son were looking for a church. He asked if I thought his family would be welcomed in my congregation.
I answered as honestly as I could. I told him that *I* would be thrilled to have them, and that probably about 80% of my congregation would either be happy to have a gay family or not care one way or another. 10% I predicted would not even notice. But that last 10% would probably be uncomfortable, and I sincerely hoped that they would not be rude, but not having had a reconciling ‘talk’ with them, I wasn’t sure. I encouraged him to bring his family if they felt so moved and experience our church for themselves. I gave my head greeter, an 85 year old woman, a heads up, so she could be prepared and not do a double-take. I went to my Staff Parish Committee, read them the email (minus names), and requested that we begin a congregational process of discerning toward becoming a reconciling congregation. We entertained the conversation for a couple of meetings, but eventually the idea was rejected. Prevailing thought seemed to be that “We don’t need to make a statement; we welcome anyone, and everyone knows it.” Everyone, it seems, except the gay people who read our website to see if we welcome everyone and don’t see there the explicit words of welcome.
And the couple and their son never came.
I didn’t blame them. I’m not sure I’d be that brave.
And so this morning, the fourth Sunday of Easter (“Good Shepherd Sunday” as some call it), and a rainy and cool spring morning, who should walk up to the front doors of our church, but two middle aged men and their seven year old son, holding each of his dads’ hands. The one who’d emailed me was obviously more confident and comfortable, while his partner looked like he’d rather be at the dentist’s office or something, but all three approached with courage that nearly brought tears to my eyes. They’re giving us a shot. Wow.
My greeter lady greated and seated, and pointed the couple out to me (she remembered our conversation from a couple years ago). I also greeted the couple and said I remembered their email. I was happy to see that those sitting near them, although relatively conservative members, were either not taking notice or extending friendship and shaking hands. Good for them. I only saw one person in the choir do a little double-take.
On a side note, my sermon was pretty good, and about living into abundance, Jesus’ stated purpose, rather than assuming that since he uses the shepherd metaphor we should stumble through life like blind, bored sheep. The sermon was, unfortunately, not recorded.
When I entered the fellowship hall after church, I immediately noticed that the visiting couple was sitting alone at a table near the door (their son, thankfully, was deeply engrossed in playing at the kids’ table). Alone. Well, bummer.
I got in line for coffee and cake as fast as I could, but my dear little old church lady and greeter, already stirring cream into her coffee, was way ahead of me. 85 years young, she picked up her cup and her plate of goodies, and without hesitation planted herself at the near-empty table and launched into conversation.
Like many people in my congregation, I know that this woman was at least a little uncomfortable and must have wrestled with herself for a moment before making her decision. But she put all that other stuff aside to extend holy hospitality.
I’ve never been prouder in my life.
By the time I got to the table, my church lady had learned that the less-comfortable partner was, to his own surprise, the former college roommate of our organist’s son. She had also, as her car battery had died and they live a block apart, happily accepted an offer for a ride home.
I try not to use people’s given names here, as I don’t have their permission, but I think it’s important to note that my church lady’s name is Grace.
This morning, she certainly was.