People ask me sometimes, what is your church like? I generally say, “It’s pretty fantastic but you should come see for yourself.” To give you a feel for it, let’s start off with what last Sunday looked like:
Hollis, the kindest soul in the universe, led us in a call to worship. Hollis’ son is gay and her and her husband are the epitome of love and embrace to him and all people. Diane Wilder, a retired African-American woman led us in our opening hymn (of course the incredible Jeff Tippett, our worship director was accompanying on the organ). Jakaela, our African-American (self-described queer) summer intern led us in the pastoral prayer. Annette, our Associate Pastor, an African-American woman, then gave us our announcements – I then had the honor of welcoming into membership Brittany and Susan, who will be married in November, and of course the community erupted in celebration of them. After that, a small band (two African-American women singers and two white men on guitars) led us in “Oceans.” I did the preaching, then another contemporary song – then communion as Geraleese and Sade helped serve on one side (they are a married/female/African-American couple), while the incredible Ebony helped me serve on the other side. Then we were closed out in the classic hymn, Amazing Grace – with Steve, a retired UMC pastor, playing the trumpet and Susan on the french horn! We are a church of those who are new to the church and those who have been there since 1950. It is a beautiful place.
I used a lot of descriptors in that paragraph because I wanted you to get a mental image of what the diversity here looks like.
A new person visited our church a few months ago, they were gay. They said, “Yeah, I looked at the website and wondered if y’all were serious about inclusion. You said you were, but I didn’t know what to believe. When I got here, I didn’t see any rainbow flags or anything, but then I come in and I see a same-sex couples holding hands, I see them leading prayers and giving testimonies. I see African-Americans leading from the pulpit and gay folks serving communion and I knew I had found my home.”
Why are we affirming as a church? Well, the reasons are many…
We believe that all people are people and all people bear the image of God and all people are worthy of being celebrated and included and embraced. Period. Hard Stop.
We believe that the message of God’s love is a message of ever-increasing inclusion and that anything that excludes anyone is non-Christian. Any theology or understanding of Scripture that excludes anyone is wrong because exclusion always leads to emotional or physical violence.
We believe that love is love and God is love, ergo, love is love. #logic
We believe that Jesus’ message dismantles the systems of oppression and hierarchy and the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of equality for everyone. We want to be a foretaste of that kingdom of God on earth, so we are intentional about making sure that our leadership church council, our staff, and those that lead liturgy are diverse as we share all our gifts with the community of faith.
We believe that the church has a social responsibility and that our words and theology matter in the world. Even if our broader community does not attend church, we believe that our words and beliefs shape public opinion and public imagination and we want to be shaping it towards justice, inclusion, equality, love, and generosity.
And ultimately, we believe that every single person is on a journey to find their home – the place where they are loved and embraced and included and feel safe and part of something bigger than themselves. We are striving to create that space for everyone – regardless of the color of our skin, our age, our abilities, our gender, our economic situation, or our sexuality. Our hope is that our church can be a place where everyone can find their home.
We take the Bible very seriously here. We are Christ-centered in all that we do, and because of that we want to be a community of renewal and justice. We strive to be a community that helps each other recover from the exploitative worldview that was given to us by the culture around us, and to embrace the counter-cultural life that Jesus offers. Our goal is to collectively turn away from oppression in order to embrace the sort of love and generosity that actively works to dismantle the systems of oppression around us that destroy flourishing.
We eat together, a lot. We listen to each other. We pray for one another. We serve together and are always looking to how we can relieve suffering and fight injustice. We give our money, our time, and our talents to the work of Jesus because we believe it is the very best way to live. We talk about debt cancelation and loving our enemies and understanding God as the most generous force of love we could ever imagine. And we believe this God of love is calling the church to eliminate the borders of fear and inequality that are all around us.
In short, we are just being what we call…church.
If you are looking for a home like this – we’d love for you to join us. There is always room at our table for more – we’ll pull up a chair for you!
To learn more visit: www.opentableumc.org
To follow Jason visit his blog at: www.theprogressivepastor.com