How should we begin a dialogue in a congregation that’s never discussed these issues?

Thank you for being interested in taking a “first step” toward being a truly welcoming community of faith! Although I have a few ideas for you, I want to make clear from the outset that there’s no right way to do this—other than to proceed with love and to be respectful of all views!

Your congregation has its own style of communicating internally and its own history of extending hospitality. Given that the possibilities are endless, it will help your group to ascertain the attitudes and concerns of people in your congregation and to gauge the level of welcome that already exists.

Consider having trusted members take an informal poll

To take an informal poll, gather the small group of people who’ve already expressed interest, make assignments of at least a representative sample of your congregation, and go have conversations with them.

Tell them what you’re doing, that you’re taking the pulse of the congregation on this subject, and ask if they’d be willing to share their thoughts with you. Most people will warm up if they see that you aren’t judgmental about what they say, that you really respect what they share without argument. This last is easier said than done, so you want to prepare each other!

In advance, develop a short list of questions like this—after adapting to fit your own setting, of course:

  • Can you remember a time when our pastor(s) mentioned gay or transgender people in the worship service? Was it in a positive or negative light?
  • Are you aware of having any people in our congregation who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, transgender, or questioning their orientation or gender?
  • If such people came for the first time, how welcome do you think they’d feel in our congregation? What signs of welcome or non-welcome would they pick up? Would they want to return?
  • Would a little boy be accepted here if he liked games, toys, or clothing  that are normally thought of as girls’ interests?
  • If one of our young couples had a baby that wasn’t clearly boy or girl, would we have prepared them well for that?

Using a short list will ensure that certain issues will be asked of everyone, but you will also find that if people open up, much more information will be shared, which you’ll each want to take note of. For example, people may share with you (possibly for the first time at your church), that they have a well-loved family member who they feel would not be welcome there.

The bottom line

This is just one way to begin. Please remember how we began this answer: There’s no right way to get started, except to proceed with respect and a loving spirit!

Contributed by Ann Thompson Cook

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