Expanding the Welcome

Date posted: Wednesday 11 May 2016

Gloria Dei’s Revised Welcome Statement

 

“We believe that the gospel is God’s gift to all people, to be shared unconditionally, without regard to age, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family configuration or relationship status, socio-economic status, mental health status, or physical or mental abilities. We know that the world is often an unloving place and that the experience of alienation is all too common. To those who have felt excluded here or elsewhere, we extend a particular welcome in Christ’s love. We rejoice that diversity has enriched, nurtured and challenged the life and ministry we share as members of the body of Christ and workers in the kingdom of God.”

The Rev. Javen Swanson serves as associate pastor at Gloria Dei, Saint Paul.

 

About a year ago a transgender member of our congregation approached the church council. She had noticed that the welcome statement our congregation adopted 16 years ago at the conclusion of our Reconciling in Christ (RIC) process did not extend a specific welcome to members of the transgender community. She had been warmly received at Gloria Dei, she said, and wanted to be sure others who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming knew they were welcome here, too.

 

It is not uncommon for congregations who went through the RIC process many years ago to have missed an opportunity to hear the stories of transgender individuals and explore the concept of gender identity. Frankly, most congregations who went through the process two decades ago were thinking primarily of gay and lesbian individuals, and simply hadn’t given much thought to transgender issues. Today, any congregation that wishes to become Reconciling in Christ must educate themselves about gender identity and adopt a trans-inclusive welcome statement. Ironically, many of the early RIC congregations, like Gloria Dei, actually have some work to do to catch up with those who have become RIC more recently.

 

Gloria Dei’s church council responded by forming a Welcoming Task Force to explore the expansion of our welcome statement to extend a more specific welcome to transgender people and their families, and to make recommendations on activities or programs that would foster a more welcoming culture. The Task Force hosted a panel discussion featuring three transgender-identified individuals who shared their stories and spoke articulately about what steps congregations can take to be more trans-inclusive. The Task Force also led a study of the book Transgender Explained for Those Who Are Not by Joanne Herman. At the same time, our men’s book group read Amy Ellis Nutt’s Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. All of this was happening at around the same time that legislatures in North Carolina and Mississippi were debating controversial “bathroom bills” that sparked a national conversation about transgender inclusion.

 

The Task Force prepared a revised, trans-inclusive welcome statement that was approved at a congregational meeting on May 1. This Task Force will also be submitting to the church council a set of recommendations, including the suggestion that our welcome statement be reviewed every five years to ensure that it reflects our congregation’s values.

 

There are many resources available to congregations seeking to understand gender identity and extend a welcome to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. ReconcilingWorks (www.reconcilingworks.org) has prepared some helpful materials, and still more resources are available from the Institute for Welcoming Resources (www.welcomingresources.org).

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