When Welcoming is More than Toleration
Pastors are well aware of the courage it takes for many first-time visitors to find their way into our sanctuaries. They often have to deal with poor signage, lack of a welcoming face, and even hostility over where they choose to sit. In many ways visitors are as much a threat to a congregation as promise.
Imagine then what it takes for a gay person to show up for worship. All the above is compounded by a real or perceived sense of animosity toward who they are, even if it is not obvious at first sight. After all, the church’s reputation in the gay community as a hostile environment for them is well deserved.
I often attend P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, and have spoken quite often. My congregation was officially “Open and Affirming,” and I was well known as a gay advocate in the community. After a period of many months and a lot of exposure, gays began to see that even though I was straight, I was for real. Surely, I thought, some of them will attend my church, and when they do, they will find a warm and affirming welcome. Several years of regular contact went by and not a single gay person came to worship with us. So, I shared my frustration with a gay friend who knew the situation well. His response hit me like an arrow through the heart. “Oh, they trust you alright, but because of their horrific experiences in their own churches, they are unwilling to trust strangers, no matter how sincerely they are approached.”