Church planting is difficult. Getting a message out that says we are a different kind of church sometimes sends a message that we are so different that people ought to stay away. That difference came home to me recently in a conversation that included this statement: “I know you are trying to build a gay church ... “
I think I stuttered or at the very least was speechless, because I am not trying to build a “gay church” rather, I am trying to raise up a church that welcomes EVERYONE. EVERYONE. EVERYONE. I know that many churches only want certain people. I know that those sitting in the pews who support the church only want certain people.
Long before I was ordained, I was a sociologist and I still think “sociologically.” In early sociology classes we learned that people like to be with people who look like them. For instance, when I enter a room with equal numbers of unknown people, males and females, I generally head straight to the females who are my age and who are standing either alone or in a group of females who are further distinguished by being dressed in similar clothing. That is just where my comfort zone is.
This seeking of like individuals goes on in church as well as in a gathering, which is why 11AM Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. We each attend the church that looks like us. So, when I invite all to worship on Sunday morning and those who come to visit see whites and African-Americans, college professors and unemployed workers, some dressed to the nines while others are wearing less formal clothes, only the very secure and determined will return.
I am having a crisis of church building - perhaps it is a crisis of faith. I always thought God accepted everyone and churches should welcome everyone. But when I learn that if we welcome and accept gays or those with physical and mental handicaps or those with wardrobes from Goodwill, then others are going to stay away, I am saddened and disheartened. At that time, I see no hope for this different, struggling congregation, or for religion in general. This may be the message that Americans who stay away from church are sending.
When I first moved to Mansfield, my new spiritual director told me that if the church plant did not succeed, that I should not think that seeds were not planted. God works in mysterious ways, said he. I hope so. Because we NEED to sit next to each other and learn each from other - our favorite food and our unique ways and our hopes and dreams. Otherwise, we might turn out to be in such disarray that we don’t recognize our brother or sister. Then we should wail, doubled over in grief.