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The Inclusive Church - Is it worth the effort?


Susan R

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I’ve been looking for an LGBTQ+ inclusive church ever since ending my 5+ year Sunday home bible study and coming out fully as a transgender female back in early April.  I’ve been to 4 different ones within driving distance of my home.  There may be more out there but I’m not familiar with them.  I finally settled on a medium sized Lutheran Church in early December 2019 partly because I attend PFLAG meetings there but they also had a few inclusive LGBTQ+ stickers on their windows.

 

The congregation is mostly 35 years old and older and so far there seems to be rather mixed regarding acceptance of our the LGBTQ+ community.  The sermons have been focusing on inclusivity of all people in general so that was nice.  I figured they must have recently voted for adding this Inclusive Doctrine a year or so ago based on my assessment but wasn’t sure.  I recently found out they actually have an Inclusive Committee that handles “all things LGBTQ+” within the church.

 

What got us started attending last December was their offering a 2 hour event with the primary focus of gender diversity & the Church followed by a 7 week course in Jan-Feb 2020.  The 2 hour event had a lot of good information about church history, patriarchy and gender with much background.  The title of the event was ”Ending The Silence”, referring to the elephant in the room among churchgoing Christians regarding it’s LGBTQ+ acceptance.

 

On Jan. 5th, my wife and I attended the first class of this “Ending The Silence” followup event.  It was rebranded to match the book study called “Dialogues On Sexuality” in this seven session course.  This classes were very good and I feel it helped many others understand the diversity of gender and how the church is changing.  The study was very well put together and there was some great conversation in some of the small groups over the seven weeks.  My wife and I were open about our relationship and my being a transgender female and we both freely answered any questions they had.   Unfortunately, we were the only LGBTQ+ individuals there.  Many of them had co-workers, relatives, siblings or children in our community but none of the other attendees were themselves.

 

Interestingly enough, on this very last class in this course (this morning’s class), I found out many of the attendees are in fact on the Church’s Inclusive Committee.  Near the end of the class, the facilitator asked the class, “What can we actively do as a church to further this Inclusive Doctrine?”  So Tim, who finally announced he was be the president of the Church Inclusive Committee said we need to continue having classes like this one every so often.  I asked Tim, “What are some of the things the church has done since this Inclusive Doctrine has been adopted?”  The committee members all look at each other puzzled and Tim finally said, “Well after it [the doctrine] passed we sort of stopped meeting as a group.”

I asked, “So when was the committee formed and when was the Doctrine passed?.  Tim said, “7 years ago we started the committee but only three people came originally...then 3 years ago the Doctrine passed.”

 

I could not believe what I had just heard. This sounded even less efficient than our Federal Government...seven years and this course was finally introduced?  I could understand if they had just put this doctrine in place last year but this was seven long years ago they started venturing forward with absolutely nothing to show for their efforts. No wonder my wife and I are the only openly gay/trans couple attending.

 

The only good that came out of this is that my wife and I have become close to a few of the members of the congregation attending the course and maybe a few of the curious folk learned that I’m not too much different than the average person on the street once you take time to get to know me.

 

We spoke at length to Tim and another committee member after the class and I gave them a shipload of ways they could get a better reputation about their inclusivity and actually increase the numbers of us in their congregation.  We gave them our contact info and will likely be helping them out from here on out. There’s a part of me that wants to abandon ship and look for a much further along inclusive church.  I’m just not sure if there is any close to where I live.  My wife wants us to stick it out.  She thinks that the church has to start somewhere and she thinks we could be the spark they need. I’m torn.

 

TLDR; My wife & I are attending a church that we assumed was much further along in LGBTQ acceptance.  It turns out they’ve been sitting on their thumbs the last 7 years.  I’m trying to decided whether to stay and help or leave for better pastures.


Susan R?

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Interesting, Susan. I have attended a very conservative evangelical church for a long time. When I started realizing what was happening to me I had to run toward the nearest affirming church I could find. They have already gone through what you are talking about, and have a thriving LGBTQ+ congregation.

 

It might be helpful to find out if the church is only doing this to stay in line with the denomination leadership (i.e., check all the check boxes and get a good score) or if the leadership of the church is genuinely interested in learning how to love and accept those in the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Also, if you intend to be a pioneer of this change in that church then you probably want to make sure you are really able to commit for the long haul. The Church is made up of imperfect people, and you will undoubtedly be hurt by people in the church during this struggle.

 

I'm glad to hear that you are making an impact.

 

Belle ❤

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35 minutes ago, Belle said:

Also, if you intend to be a pioneer of this change in that church then you probably want to make sure you are really able to commit for the long haul. The Church is made up of imperfect people, and you will undoubtedly be hurt by people in the church during this struggle.

Yes Belle, the commitment is an issue at this time.  I have a lot on my plate right now as it is.  I went to a new member orientation 2 weeks ago which was an introduction for newcomers within the church.  Next Sunday, those that commit to membership and all that entails will be introduced formally in front of the church.

 

My wife and I did not commit at the end of orientation meeting or during that following week.  The pastor called us a few days ago to ask if we had yet considered membership and he pointed out that he wasn’t trying to put any pressure on us to make the decision but that he wanted us to feel welcome.  Unfortunately, I had to tell him my thoughts about where I felt the church was inclusively based on a two recent negative homophobic experiences with members.  I told him that I will continue to attend but it is much too early in the process to commit and get fully onboard and I didn’t feel the church is far enough along in their Inclusiveness Doctrine.  I added that it would not be smart at this time for my wife and I to be introduced formally as new members in front of the congregation.  We would likely be ostracized for being the only open lesbian couple in the church.  He said he understood.  Sadly, I did feel like I was letting him down big time and it bothers me because since I’ve been there the focus has been heavy on inclusiveness message.  I thought I was better than that and should not care what others think.  However, after what happened earlier today at the end of the class, I believe I made the correct decision to hold off on any commitment to this church...at least for now.  I can always reconsider at any time.

 

Belle, you are correct though.  If I stay and help the church with this new focus (as a member or not), I’m bound to have more negative homophobic experiences along the way.  I will be hurt.  So it’s a gamble but it might all be worth it in the end if I can grow a thicker skin.

 

Thanks for your take on this,

Susan R?

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Susan.  Although I’m not religious like you or Belle I feel you and your wife took the right course in this.  Your wanting just a bit more and there is nothing wrong for holding out for what you want and need. I would imagine this sort of thing is a very personal choice in how you want to worship. I feel you need to feel it 100% in your heart or don’t do it.  I feel you acted appropriately in this.  
Just my 2cents.  

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Like you I have come from a more stalwart evangelical background, and in many ways still hold to the same sorts of doctrines and beliefs common among evangelicals.  I am, however, more practical in a lot of ways than the simple black-and-white position many evangelicals hold.  I am always looking to go deeper and question the standard line.  Here's what I would offer you as a means by which to decide what you need to do going forth:

 

Jesus 'new' command to us was to love one another.  Is the love there in the congregation?  Love is an action word, and so I would ask do you see the actions of love in the congregation?  Are they reaching out to other marginalized groups, such as homeless people, with practical assistance.  I am not talking about endless prayer, or monetary donations. Are they doing things where it counts?  Is there love between the congregants? If the love is there, then the road to inclusion will be a natural walk from ignorance to acceptance and more.  If the love isn't there, you have a larger hurdle to overcome than just accepting LGBTQIA+ people.  People who can't love each other are going to have issues loving others who are different.  If there is tons of drama in the church, you can expect tons of drama on the road to being inclusive.

 

I am very much a person who is all about congregation over denomination.  I will totally go to a church where the doctrine is not entirely in line with my own beliefs if the congregation is mature and loving.  I don't agree some points of Pentecostal doctrine, but spent almost 7 years in an Assemblies of God church due to the quality and maturity of the congregation.  I believe God reaches past the imperfection of our church rather than the doctrinal rightness thereof, and no degree of being incorrect doctrine is an insurmountable hurdle for Him.  In the end it is not what you know, but who you know that matters.  Is your congregation comprised of mature people?  I think we grow more and more alike as we mature, even if we attend very different churches.  The failure of too many Christians is to trust the Holy Spirit in themselves and not in others.  I can trust the Holy Spirit in others where I see them progressing in maturity.

 

Which leads me to my last point.  What is the Spirit telling you about this church?  The fact you have to ask whether you should stay or not says you haven't been given a clear message or haven't been given a clear message yet.  If you are meant to minister to them as they minister to you, you will be given a clear indication.  Consider also you have come to that congregation to learn something and maybe the time to move on will come later.  That is entirely between you and the Spirit, but if you are open and you are in the right place it will be clear to you.

 

I hope something here helps.  ❤️

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Coming from a conservative religious background I understand The Church (composed of all the Christian faith) is made of imperfect, flawed people just like the world around us. That several denominations have been dragged kicking and screaming into the inclusivity category has been difficult to watch: the Methodist church I grew up in is suffering a serious and probably permanent rift; Episcopalian churches have mostly tried to become more affirming and inclusive; the Catholic Church has tried to split the difference  (in my opinion) and have it both ways.

For myself it is helpful to see a church as extended family. Are these the people you want to spend holidays with? If not, look further afield. If so, then dive in.

TA

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I am an Episcopalian and came out in the parish (congregation) I had been in for 20+ years at that point in time.  10 years later I am still part of that parish and the only LGBT person there now.  (When I came out, our Organist / Choir Director had been a gay man).  I am generally happy where I am and am actually one of the Lay leaders in the congregation which I had not been prior to Transition.  The Episcopal Church has canons in place that include Trans people at all levels and positions in the church since 2015 although the specific rule to that effect had been proposed in 2009 but required ratification at three General Conventions which take place every three years. We do have Trans clergy in several parishes nationally.  The main issue is that there are very few of us and it does take a bit of "development" to fully engage allies in individual parishes. I have become a "known quantity" at our Diocesan (regional group of congregations) Level and as a result I do attend other parishes on occasion for Sunday services and for weekday LGBT activities that do happen, including use of our new Renaming Rite and Pride Mass  Celebrations and thus I know people even in national church offices and work with them too. I have contact with clergy members in our Diocese who encounter questions from parishioners who have Trans children or grandchildren, and have trained staff at several church schools and day care centers on dealing with Trans children.

 

I am much busier than I know you want to be or can be just now, and where I am has taken just about a decade to come into being.  It seems that every time I get ready to pull back, something comes up to draw me in even deeper.  My suggestion is to follow your heart in this.  Simple, friendly service and participation in a church over time is the best way to get people to know you and to realize your difference is not harmful or scary to them and they will turn out as fine people.  I have one person in my parish who has just recently begun looking at me and smiling as she says "Hi Vicky" instead of giving me a brief look and hurrying on.

 

 

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7 hours ago, ShawnaLeigh said:

Your wanting just a bit more and there is nothing wrong for holding out for what you want and need. I would imagine this sort of thing is a very personal choice in how you want to worship. I feel you need to feel it 100% in your heart or don’t do it.  I feel you acted appropriately in this

Yes, the timing of the membership orientation was premature in our timeline.  I haven’t written off the church, my wife and I just need more time to make that level of commitment.  I hate letting people down though and that’s what bothers me more than anything.  The Pastors, both of them, call me, stop by to chat after the service and  greet me affectionately every time I see them.  I realize that no reason to attend but it sure makes it hard not to step up to the plate.

 

6 hours ago, michelle_kitten said:

Is the love there in the congregation? ...do you see the actions of love in the congregation?

 

Are they reaching out to other marginalized groups, such as homeless people, with practical assistance.  Are they doing things where it counts?

 

Is there love between the congregants? If the love is there, then the road to inclusion will be a natural walk from ignorance to acceptance and more.  If the love isn't there, you have a larger hurdle to overcome than just accepting LGBTQIA+ people.  People who can't love each other are going to have issues loving others who are different.  If there is tons of drama in the church, you can expect tons of drama on the road to being inclusive.

I feel love in many people in our congregation.  There are many who would put their lives on the line to help another.  Of course, there are, of course, others that are there for their own benefit.  Overall, I feel more love there than a lack of it.

 

The church has more outreach operations than any church I’ve visited.  There is no way one individual can participate in every one of them.  They are making a difference here in the local community.  Events are going on constantly.  As a congregation and through the leadership, the church is pouring out love into the community.

 

4 hours ago, TammyAnne said:

For myself it is helpful to see a church as extended family. Are these the people you want to spend holidays with? If not, look further afield. If so, then dive in.

I am developing relationships now with some of the members.  Enough so that going out for coffee is an option.  The vacation will be a little longer in the timeline..lol...but who knows?

 

4 hours ago, VickySGV said:

I am an Episcopalian and came out in the parish (congregation) I had been in for 20+ years at that point in time.  10 years later I am still part of that parish and the only LGBT person there now.

The main difference here is your long standing in the church.  You had likely proved yourself in that amount of time.  The coming out for me would be nearly simultaneous to my  becoming a member.  Those who haven’t already seen my wife and I as a couple would instantly be brought up to speed.  The church, imho, may not be ready to accept an open LGBTQ+ member.  That won’t likely stop me.

 

4 hours ago, VickySGV said:

It seems that every time I get ready to pull back, something comes up to draw me in even deeper.  My suggestion is to follow your heart in this.  Simple, friendly service and participation in a church over time is the best way to get people to know you and to realize your difference is not harmful or scary to the 

This is what is keeping me attending.  I feel I can help out and I have my wife wanting to assist in this with me.  It would be easier to find another church that is further along in its Inclusion Doctrine implementation but maybe I am there for that specific reason.  I do feel it is a congregation that wants change in this direction...I was just hoping they were already there.  I’m almost comfortable enough to make the commitment. I just think I need a little more time.

 

Thank you all for your wonderful insights and taking time to read through all I had written.  It’s a very important part of my life and I’m happy that you cared enough to give me your thoughts.

 

Susan R?

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1 hour ago, Susan R said:

The main difference here is your long standing in the church.  You had likely proved yourself in that amount of time.

 

Not really the case I am afraid.  I had largely been ignored as my male self for some good reasons I may add.  I was simply the dad of two children who were important to their youth program.  If I had simply tossed the kids out of the car on Sunday mornings I would not really have been missed.  They began to cautiously get to know me over a the first two years, but I felt more like sticking my neck out as I Transitioned.  My longevity was a matter of space occupation not really anything more.

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To be perfectly honest, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is very very, VERY LGBTQIA+ Friendly. 

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Speaking as an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PCUSA, I can say based on my experience, that the actual truth of the matter is the acceptance of LGBTQ folks varies widely between particular congregations regardless of the denomination. This is sad, but with people being who, and what, they are it is fact. It' also why I'm no longer active within my denomination as a pastor.

 

My suggestion is to find a welcoming congregation--don't worry about the "flavor," be it UCC, PCUSA, Episcopal, Lutheraan, etc--and worship there.

 

I would point out that when Christ walked the the earth as one of us, he was always eating with, staying with and ministering to the tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes; the marginalized of His day. It seems to me that today's marginalized are the LGBTQ communities more than anyone else. Where would He be ministering right now if He was with us physically?

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@Marcie Jensen well said - I look at what Christ said and did - not the rules many churches put into place - I think Jesus would be sad at what many people would today and he would consider them Pharisees.

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Shay--you've hit the nail on thee head, so to speak. Churches are made up of PEOPLE--broken, flawed and fearful; with all th4e baggage this fallen world has to offer. Interestingly, the reformation theologian John Calvin discussed this when he wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion 'way back in 1636. In it he says words to the effect of Humans are so depraved (his word) that we manage to corrupt everything we touch, even the church. With that particular truth comes the realization that it's the teaching and example of Christ that are most important not what dogma has to say.

 

While I don't presume to judge anyone as to their faith and how they practice it, the Pharisee analogy seems apt. In Matthew 7:15 we are warned  to beware of false teachers and prophets, and sadly this is what many congregations have become. You've also reminded me of the parable of the tax collector and Pharisee in Luke's Gospel. Simply, Jesus tells us of how a tax collector and a Pharisee went to the temple to pray and while the tax collector said "Thank you Lord for making me not like other men" (Pointing to the tax collector, the tax collector hung his head and prayed "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus then tells his disciples, "the tax collector went home justified before God." This speaks volumes, I think.

 

Sorry to have gotten long winded and sermonized. Some habits die hard... :) 

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      I haven't seen significant changes and I've been on HRT for 9 months with decent Estrogen and testosterone levels since May.  If patches were used, my guess is the doc started with very low doses which means much slower results.  My doc advised me against patches because they are generally low dose and for most transwomen he's dealt with who've gone that way they had to use multiple patches at a time to get the dosage needed.  Also my doctor said changes in body hair is approximately a 2 year process, assuming good hormone levels in the blood, so a few months to see results seems optimistic at best.  And of course facial hair isn't affected by HRT so there's that.   my advice would be if you haven't already to get her estrogen and testosterone levels checked and consult with the doc to see if she's in or near the target range.  I've been told by many that you can expect the entire first year to mostly just be the doc dialing in the proper dosage, so get the blood tests and work with the doc to make sure the proper adjustments are made.  Then I would advise patience, which is probably the hardest part of transition in my opinion.
    • Carolyn Marie
      Jazz-Per, why don't you try using our Resource Locator, found Here?  It is not a definitive source, so you can also try through LGBT centers or the state's professional associations for licensed therapists.  I wish you luck.   HUGS   Carolyn Marie
    • KathyLauren
      It is very common to start transition for some reasons that don't include body parts, and then to become aware of one's dissatisfaction with their body parts later in the process.  That was certainly the case for me.   I know a lot of people reserve the word "dysphoria" for dissatisfaction with body parts, but I think it applies to other areas of life.  Social dysphoria is very common, possibly more common than body dysphoria.  To be honest, I cannot see someone starting transition, including HRT, unless they were experiencing some kind of (what I would call) dysphoria.   In my case, I experienced strong social dysphoria.  I could not stand relating to others as a male and wanted to relate to them as a female.  On that basis, I started HRT and transitioned socially shortly thereafter.  Well after that process started, I became more aware of my body dysphoria and set the process in motion to do something about that.  That is a very common path.   However, I am not going to tell you how to describe your experience.  If you prefer to reserve the word dysphoria for dissatisfaction with your body, then yes, what you describe is very common.  It doesn't indicate a mistake.  It just indicates a difference in terminology.  
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