In our Caring Conversations, a great question was asked that frames our whole reason for having a Welcome Statement: we are already a welcoming congregation, why do we need to have a statement? And, a second question followed: won’t that cause division in singling out specific groups? A reply to this wonderful sentiment that has been provided to us by Reconciling Works (RW), the organization within the ELCA who helps congregations be even more welcoming: people who have experienced exclusion and discrimination and worse in the church over the centuries need to be able to know that they have an explicit and unqualified welcome and invitation to participate.
(Text in purple is commentary and thoughts behind the text of the Welcome Statement shown in black bold text.)
As people gathered and sent in the love of Christ, Poulsbo First Lutheran Church (PFLC) celebrates, welcomes, and affirms the great human family God has created in all its diversity and complexity. “Indeed, the whole earth is mine…” (God – Ex. 19:5b)
“People gathered and sent in the love of Christ” is the vision statement PFLC adopted in 2017. We believe that God is the one who brings people together and creates community among those present on any given day. God then sends out that group into the world, turns us all loose on the world to love the world as God loves the world. (John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world…”)
Because the community that is gathered is a group of God’s people, we celebrate, welcome and affirm each person as someone created by God, loved by God, and approved by God. And if that is the case, PFLC ought also to not just passively allow people to come if they want to, but to actively and enthusiastically support people who come here. (1 Corinthians 13 – “love is patient, love is kind, love does not insist on its own way…”)
As St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12, “Just as the body is one and has many members… so it is with Christ.” Each person has a part to play in the community that is the body of Christ. We humans are diverse, we are complex as science has shown us, we all are crafted in the bounds of creation by a God who claims us all. (Ex. 19:5b)
God has called everyone to love, celebrate, invite, include, affirm and welcome people:
- in all our divinely created diversity: LGBTQIA2S+, gender identity and gender expression, sexual orientation, race, age, neurodiversity, physical form, and mental health;
- in all our situations in life: relationship status, family configuration, nationality, citizenship status, economic status, occupational status, education, and theological perspective, and
- in all other facets of God’s beloved humanity.
This statement holds as vitally important that no one feels like they are simply being tolerated or allowed to be here but not allowed to fully participate or be who they truly are. So this statement affirms the love that God has called us to share, and to celebrate people, invite them into community, include people in community, affirm them as good (Gen 1 – God affirmed the creation every step of the way as “behold it was very good”) and welcome folks into a sense of belonging that includes every part of our created beings. (Gal. 3:28-29 – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”)
This statement shows a belief that God has created diversity on purpose, and we listed many ways that people are, be, belong, exist, and experience the world. In the creation story in Genesis chapter 2 God took a part of Adam and created a woman which sounds like a divinely orchestrated trans moment.
The first Christian convert after the disciples was a eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8) who was a social and religious outsider affirmed and loved as a full member of the people of God. Jesus was a Palestinian person, his mother was a teenager, his aunt very old when she gave birth to John the baptizer (Luke 1). God’s work involved people of all ages, all countries, (“Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them…” Mt. 28:19-20) God’s promises were to extend to the whole world of nations.
God’s people have been wanderers, slaves, outcasts, nomads, conquerors, conquered, settlers, teachers, foreigners, citizens, refugees and have found themselves in so many situations in life. Some families had children and others didn’t, some families included nieces and nephews living with aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors. Some family was chosen (Ruth and Naomi). Some families had one father and several mothers with children all living together (Jacob in Genesis). All of these people had the promise that God was with them. And we still have that promise (Mt. 28:20 “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”)
Following a God who liberates and works in favor of the persecuted and oppressed, PFLC stands against hate, prejudice, violence, and harmful ideologies, seeking instead to be antiracist, open and affirming, reconciling and forgiving. We strive to succeed, while giving and receiving forgiveness when we fail.
While we affirm that PFLC is a gathering of people who welcome all, God clearly stands in favor of God’s people and works for peace. God stands against harm and works against hate and prejudice (Book of Esther). God delivered his people from oppressive violence in the story of Moses (Exodus 1-15). And God also worked against ideologies that ostracized people and sought to make the powerful more powerful. The prophets spoke out in favor of the quartet of the vulnerable and called the people to responsibility to care for the orphan, widow, alien, and poor. Jesus called us all to care for the least, the last, and the lost.
PFLC follows the lead of God and Jesus and seeks to be antiracist: working against systems, people and structures that discriminate against Black and brown people. PFLC seeks to be open and affirming: welcoming of people who need an explicit welcome. And PFLC strives to promote reconciliation between those who are estranged and to practice and foster forgiveness that leads to reconciliation to our God and among one another.
We also recognize that this is a process. We are just getting started as individuals and as a congregation. We have so many good intentions and will still not get it right all the time. So, we covenant with each other to faithfully call each other out when we have messed up, to accept that feedback with humility, and to offer each other forgiveness as we move forward together. This is the way of Jesus, after all, who came to “save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)
All people at PFLC are invited to participate and serve in all aspects of the community:
- in baptism and communion, in education and fellowship, in leadership and service, and
- in celebrating life’s milestones: weddings, funerals, confirmation, etc.
God sends us into the world to love and serve our neighbor, to be advocates and accomplices in justice, and to share the grace of God.
An important part of welcoming people is inclusion. All people who come here are encouraged to be active in the life and ministry of the congregation. In this Welcome Statement it is vital that the welcome be named as complete. That is, people who are welcome here, are welcome in full. Not just welcome to watch from afar. Not just welcome to do some things, but need to be kept at a distance for other things.
God loves us as complete people, as sinners in need of redeeming, as forgiven sinners sent out as God’s hands and feet of service in the world. So people at PFLC, all people, including all the ones who have been historically shunned are of course welcome at the sacraments (a mark of membership listed in our congregation constitution), in ceremonies of life’s milestones, and in every way. All of us gathered who are the “we” at any given time that God calls us together, are invited to be, and expected to be, and hoped to be full participants in the life and ministry of PFLC.
And THEN…. And then…. God sends us into the world. We live in a world that at best is ambivalent toward God and at worst works against anything that is of God. So our calling, you and I, are commissioned by our Savior to take his words of love and grace and speak them into the lives of people around us. Sometimes those words will be ones of advocacy that support others while not putting words in their mouths. Sometimes our call will be as accomplices in justice, out there working side by side in accompaniment of those who have to struggle for the world and oppressive systems to even acknowledge that they exist much less have a right to life.
You and I and all people are loved by God, claimed by God, and enveloped in the grace of God. This God of yours moves in your life whether you realize it or not. This movement, this action is cause for our devotion to and celebration of our God, our worship and praise of our God, our voice of gratitude for grace and sharing that grace that we benefit from with others.
Scriptures of love and inclusion:
All scripture quoted from New Revised Standard Version bible: http://bible.oremus.org/
Genesis 1:26-28 – binary bias from the beginning, but…image of God language
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (also read from Ch.2 below!!!) and see “Image of God” below in thoughts – from Terry Fretheim
Genesis 2:20-25 – they become one flesh!!
20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Psalm 139 – God knows us and made us – all of who we are
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
19O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.
23Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
24See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Micah 6:6-8 – Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Matthew 22:34-40 – Jesus summarizes (redefines) the commandments
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
John 13:33-35 – disciples of Jesus love
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Romans 8:31-39 – nothing can separate us from the love of God
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Galatians 3:27-29 – all are one in Jesus
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Historically, there have been seven scriptures used to exclude LGBTQIA+ people from love, life, and ministry in the church. As we live in God’s word more and more, as scholarship learns new things, and as people change and grow and have new experiences, scripture needs to be looked at again. And one question that we ask is, “Does God’s love cover new things?” Is God’s love good for all people as God claims? At PFLC and in thousands of churches, learning institutions, homes, and families we have come to know that God loves us all.
Bibliography: in the PFLC Library
|Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness will Transform your Faith
|This Book Is Gay
|What’s the T?: The Guide to All Things Trans and/or Nonbinary
|Heavy Burdens: 7 Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church
|Bridget Eileen Rivera
|One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins
|Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
|Rachel Held Evans
|Made Known Loved: Developing LGBTQ – Inclusive Youth Ministry
|Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens
|Welcoming and Affirming: A Guide to supporting & Working with LGBTQ+ Youth
|What’s Your Pronoun: Beyond He and She
|Unclobber: Rethinking our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality
|Let’s Talk About Love
Heart Stopper Vol 1 (some language in this one)
|Prince and Knight
|It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity
|The Pronoun Book
|Chris Ayala-Kronos, Melita Tirado