In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Nancy Steeves, Minister at Southminster-Steinhauer United Church in Edmonton, Alberta.
Churches announcing that “all are welcome” are a dime a dozen. . . The sign on the church where I was ordained said, “All Are Welcome.” The sign on the church I was appointed to serve said, “All Are Welcome.” The sign on the church where my presbytery conducted a hearing into my fitness for ministry, not because of my ethics, values, or beliefs but because of who and how I loved, also had a sign outside that said, “All Are Welcome.” Like so many other gay and lesbian clergy and parishioners, I came to know those words to mean that I am welcome . . . to live a lie.
I am welcome . . . to hide a piece of my identity.
I am welcome . . . to the club of “don’t ask and don’t tell.”
I am welcome . . . to watch other couples get married.
I am welcome . . . to pretend I have a roommate.
And I am welcome to get out of Dodge if I speak my truth—or the masquerade comes to an end—or the wrong person discovers the truth of my life.
Every church likes to say, “All Are Welcome,” but many of us have had good reason to discover these words actually mean “Some Are Welcome”:
Some are welcome to get married here . . .
Some are welcome to be our leaders . . .
Some are welcome to teach our children . . .
Some are welcome to lead our youth . . .
Because belonging has its boundaries. . .
But I want to tell you that for some, sexuality is a matter of exile or embrace, of belonging or longing to belong, of rejection or affirmation, of finding home or remaining homeless, of being known or remaining anonymous, of experiencing faith in isolation or in community. Those of us who are of a minority sexual orientation or gender identity bear many scars, and we need more than your welcome. We need affirmation: places and spaces that affirm our dignity, our value, our worth, that are safe for us not just to be but to belong; we need community with those who are not afraid to advocate for us and with us.
We have lots of welcoming churches; we even have a fair number of open-minded churches. But where are the brokenhearted churches? Isn’t that the kind of community Jesus spoke of in Nazareth: the community of the brokenhearted for the brokenhearted? It’s the kind of community where compassion has a complete anatomy: heart and mind, hands and feet, eyes and ears. To be that kind of community is to be a community of faith where we have not just an open door and an open mind but an open heart, a heart willing to let itself be broken by hearing hard stories, by receiving those who have been most fractured and broken by life. It means moving out of our own particular margins and our own particular oppressions to open our hearts to those whose hurts are very different than our own. It means living with our hearts wide open, broken open as bread is broken to be shared. It means making a safe home for all who are weary of their anonymous journeys. It means building a community where it is safe to know and to be known—where all really means all—where all are truly welcome to be and to belong.