Gales Ferry church takes official stance welcoming members of the LGBTQ community

Associate Pastor Sarah Barnes offers communion to Edna Johnson, center, of Quaker Hill, during service at St. Luke's Lutheran Church on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Gales Ferry.  Johnson, who identifies as a lesbian, recently led a group in the church who recently moved to adopt an official statement welcoming all people who are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Associate Pastor Sarah Barnes offers communion to Edna Johnson, center, of Quaker Hill, during service at St. Luke's Lutheran Church on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Gales Ferry. Johnson, who identifies as a lesbian, recently led a group in the church who recently moved to adopt an official statement welcoming all people who are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Ledyard — Are we as welcoming as we think we are?

The answer to that question can be difficult to accept, especially for church members who think they already are.

But it's one that the congregation of St. Luke Lutheran Church of Gales Ferry has no regrets about tackling.

At an annual meeting last month, the church adopted a new welcome statement and became a Reconciling in Christ Church, or RIC — a designation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that identifies churches that support openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people joining and leading the congregation.

And the new welcome statement — which the congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of — explicitly states the church’s acceptance of members who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, as well as people of all gender identities, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses and political persuasions.

“I think a lot of us thought we were more welcoming than we really were, so we decided to take a positive action … put it out there and practice what we preach,” said Marty Wood, president of the congregation.

For St. Luke the new welcome statement and RIC designation are the culmination of two years of work.

That's when the church’s strategic planning team began exploring ways to become more welcoming and thought that becoming an RIC-designated church would be a good idea to talk about as a congregation. So they created a task force, led by a parishioner, that would talk with church members and hear what they had to say.

Edna Johnson, who led the task force, said that once conversations got going they began to understand where people were coming from. Although there was no direct opposition, one common theme that came up was that members felt the church was already welcoming.

From there the task force was able to delve a bit deeper into what that really meant, and Johnson — who is a lesbian — was able to share some personal experiences about places where she hadn't been welcomed. One story about her time as a volunteer missionary in Liberia — where homosexuality is illegal — was especially salient.  

After the task force interviewed about 30 people and hosted an adult forum with a visiting pastor, it seemed the congregation was supportive of the idea. All members were involved in drafting the new welcome statement and then voted on adopting it, and becoming an RIC, at the congregation's annual meeting in January.

"The church was ready to do this, the congregation was ready," Johnson said.

Nearly a month later, the church has received no negative feedback, said Wood. No members have left the congregation and the responses to the church’s social media announcement of the decision were all positive.

Wood said that the congregation is planning more steps to publicize its welcoming stance, hoping to participate in the New London Pride Festival and putting a sign on the front of the church.

Associate Pastor Sarah Barnes said the church may also hold a special worship service for national Coming Out Day as well.

Barnes also said that for her, another part of the reason it was important for the church to take a clear stance is that even if their congregation didn't express anti-gay attitudes, young people in the congregation may hear them from other places.

"It is important that we directly state the opposite, that all people are welcomed and loved by God," she said. "It's not sinful behavior or wrong behavior, it is just different." 

c.clark@theday.com

Lead Pastor Danny Hammons gives the sermon during service at St. Luke's Lutheran Church on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Gales Ferry.  The church recently adopted an official statement welcoming all people who are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Lead Pastor Danny Hammons gives the sermon during service at St. Luke's Lutheran Church on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Gales Ferry. The church recently adopted an official statement welcoming all people who are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Edna Johnson, of Quaker Hill, stands during prayer service at St. Luke's Lutheran Church on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Gales Ferry.  Johnson, who identifies as a lesbian, recently led a group in the church who recently moved to adopt an official statement welcoming all people who are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.   (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Edna Johnson, of Quaker Hill, stands during prayer service at St. Luke's Lutheran Church on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Gales Ferry. Johnson, who identifies as a lesbian, recently led a group in the church who recently moved to adopt an official statement welcoming all people who are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments