This coming Sunday, the church where I serve will be voting on whether or not to become what is called "Open and Affirming" in our denomination, which means accepting all people into the full life of the church, including LGBT people. Over the last few months, people in our church have been sharing their perspectives on why we should do this, and I've been meaning to post them here, but I just never got around to it. With a little less than a week to go, however, here they are. This one was in our church newsletter on November 16.
The Administrative Board has approved the following change to the church by-laws that outlines what our church means when it seeks to welcome all people. This by-laws change will be voted on by the congregation at the Annual Meeting on November 21.
“First Christian Church of St. Joseph is open to and affirming of all people whatever their gender, race, age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, family configuration, or difference in ability. All who seek to follow Christ are welcome into our community to share fully in its life and ministry.”
The statement, if taken seriously, is a challenge to our church as we seek to welcome all people as Christ welcomes us. Such a welcome may mean moments of discomfort, changes to policies or even facilities and potential for misunderstandings as we seek to welcome the groups of people mentioned above, but such a welcome also offers us possibilities for joy as we experience the grace of Jesus Christ in new ways. This week Rev. Bill Shoop offers his thoughts. Rev. Shoop served as pastor of FCC from 1963-1974.
Thoughts from a Former FCC Pastor
By Rev. Bill Shoop
Forty Seven years ago I accepted the call to be Minister of First Christian Church, St. Joseph, because it had the reputation of being a “liberal” church in a conservative town. Even now, when liberal has become a bad word, I cherish the thought of First Christian as an open, confirming, generous, loving and hospitable community.
The dictionary defines a liberal as “one who is open-minded and not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional or established forms or ways.” So maybe it is time for First Christian to openly and honestly put into writing and make official in the by-laws what it has always practiced. I trust that no one feels this is some new direction or a radical change for the church.
Of course, if you think it will open the door to some people you would rather not have in the church, then you will have to devise a method of excommunication. That is a sight I would love to behold, because over the years I have known a few people, in my judgment, who should have been excommunicated. But we Disciples never did have a very good way of excluding people from the church.
If you believe that First Christian has always been an “Open and Affirming” church, then say so with courage and conviction. Then after you have said it—LIVE IT!