Room for All (RfA) is an organization whose mission is the welcome and full affirmation of LBTGQ people in the Reformed Church in America. Supporters of the organization in West Michigan are planning a major fundraising dinner on October 28. In order to have a meaningful resource table for the event, RfA Executive Director Marilyn Paarlberg has asked all supporting churches to provide short statements on what it means for them to be an open-and-affirming and RfA-rostered church.
What does one write in response? Here at First Reformed, our most pronounced statement on our stance is found in the church’s Bylaws. Article I, Section 4 reads: “Candidates for the ordained offices of the church (Deacons, Elders, Pastors) will not be discriminated against on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, or physical disability.”
As progressive as this text is, it hardly displays much trailblazing quality. We are in the Bylaws here, a genre of text not usually known for its visionary or programmatic quality!
And maybe this is okay at least in parts. The normalcy of including LGBTQ persons in all aspects of congregational life may very well be at odds with attempts of turning a spotlight on LGBTQ people. We would not do this for people with heterosexual orientation. If something is considered “normal”, it does not have to be the focus of attention.
But is this really the main reason why not more is found as far as our congregation’s self-presentation on the issue? For it is also true that we do not have a lot of structure in place to intentionally ponder these questions. And it is still overwhelmingly evident that in reality LGBTQ people have not made it into the mainstream of normalcy, neither here at First Reformed nor in the Reformed Church in America.
So back to the request from RfA! What evidence could we provide that we are serious about being open-and-affirming? What does it really mean to be on the roster of RfA registered churches? Should our Invitation & Outreach Committee launch a congregational discussion on this? Should Consistory take up the issue in its wider planning and visioning efforts? Should we start an LGBT focus group?
These are all viable possibilities. However, as so often in life, if there are not intentional individual people behind it, these things will not happen and thus remain forever in the realm of the good ideas on which we forgot to act.
So what does it mean for us right now to be on the roster of RfA? It means to be open to the organization’s challenges and reminders that there is work to be done in our midst. It means to stay open to the call to get involved and to join with others in furthering much needed change. It may also mean to learn from other roster-churches what they have done.
In all of this, may our thoughts be guided by what the Lord once said according to Matthew: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)
With fond wishes,