Building a Welcoming Church: Use Our Stories

After a few posts and some readers’ responses on the idea of a “welcoming church”, I thought it worth sharing a reflection on how to go beyond simply paying lip service to the idea, to creating truly welcoming parishes.

This is from the newsletter of Fortunate Families, a Catholic organisation for the families of lesbians and gay men. From my own experience in some parishes, I fully endorse Vicki’s observation that once you have discerned an “open or positive feel” for a specific person inside the congregation, it is perfectly feasible to share with them some details of your personal story. I have always found that the response has been explicitly welcoming, and has eased the way for further sharing later – either at a deeper level with the same person, or in a similar way with others. Judging the appropriate person time and context however, can be tricky. This is, in Vicki’s word, an act of real “discernment”, and not to be rushed. Some people will find it near impossible at any time, many people will find it impossible in specific parishes, but not in others. Still the general approach should be strongly encouraged – the more people there are doing so, the easier it will be for those who follow.

Using Our Stories to Build a More Welcoming Church

By Ron Ohmann

Rev. Vicki Wunsch, an ordained UCC minister – but still a “Catholic at heart” (her adopted daughter was refused baptism because of Vicki’s samesex partnership) – conducted an inspiring workshop on “Strategic Storytelling” at the Fortunate Families gathering Saturday, Oct. 23rd. Her basic premise was that with all the media politics regarding GLBT issues surrounding denominational churchgoers, the most effective way to change attitudes is the organic one of individuals with personal stories engaging others who may share those concerns or at least are willing to listen. Vicki suggested that once you have discerned an open or positive feel for a person, a deliberately planned, well-crafted, and gracefully-delivered story of you as a GLBT person or your loved one’s experience offers the best chance for sharing and integration. It’s about bypassing the cultural barriers of separation and opening hearts and minds in faith communities and society at large.   The story’s telling should be short (3-5 min), sincere, credible, and candid, with emphasis on the positive.  Touch on key specifics to give meaning with minimal detail.  Stay upbeat and avoid painting the portrait of a victim, either yourself or your loved one.  Likewise, avoid stark value judgments which may trigger a negative response.  Finally, let go of any ego tendency or ego demeanor.  As Jesus showed us in telling his stories (parables) in the Gospels, humility and the soft-sell usually work best.


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2 Responses to “Building a Welcoming Church: Use Our Stories”

  1. Glen Yoshioka Says:

    I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks. Thought this would be an appropriate time to say something. I run the church American Marriage Ministries; we ordain people primarily for the purpose of performing marriage.

    Obviously we don’t have a traditional structure, however I personally feel this allows us the opportunity to explore new applications of religion and how to help people.

    Anyways, just thought I’d say hi.

    • Terence Says:

      Hi Glen. Thanks for dropping by, and for introducing yourself.

      Your observation on “we ordain people primarily for the purpose of performing marriage” is interesting, and sparks a thought. No offence intended, but – if your guys are ordained just for this single purpose, how much solid theological training do they have (or other legally recognised marriage officers – I’m not trying to have a dig at your people, or your own ministry). If the answer in the law is “not very much” (as I suspect it might be), what does this say about the hypocrisy and double standards involved, when an Episcopalian in Maine, say, or a Lutheran in Minnesota with years of seminary training and extensive pastoral experience, is prohibited in law from conducting same-sex marriages, by virtue of regulations enacted for supposedly “religious” reasons?


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