Monday, 8 July 2013

What does an inclusive church service look like?

On Sunday, 7 July, I experienced several different forms of inclusive church.  This post will focus only on the first part ... the church service I attended.

I started the day at St Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco, a community that actively advertises itself as inclusive of the LGBT community, reaches out to poor people (amongst other things, they run a food pantry where tons of groceries are shared out every week, and where those who come to get food items are as welcome in worship as they are for the food pantry!), and where people on the fringes in other parts of the Church are celebrated and included, not just in being welcome, but have the opportunity to use their gifts in positions of leadership.  The worship space is in two sections, one section they use for the service of the Word (the readings, prayers & sermons), and the second section for the sacraments (the communion, or Eucharistic prayer).

The service involves lots of congregational singing, without instruments, and elements of the worship service are brought in from around the globe, with music bells and chants from other countries, and references to other cultures in items scattered around the church and also used in worship.  The congregation sing most of the liturgy, and are encouraged to interact in other ways (such as touching the Scripture which is processed through the congregation after the readings, sharing their own understandings of the topic for the week with each other after the sermon has been preached, and offering up their prayers).

After the Word part of the service, the congregation sings and dances together to the altar, and gather around the central altar, and are surrounded by paintings of contemporary and traditional saints ... giving a sense of everyone being gathered together.  The communion prayer includes more congregational singing, led by the choir, and the congregation are all invited to receive bread and wine, and to share it with each other.

I think that St. Gregory's own website can perhaps explain it in better detail than I have ... this is mixed in with my impressions.  You can see more here.

Obviously, because of my context, what impressed me, was how LGBT folk are publicly encouraged to come and join in the community (even their business cards make mention of it - see below!), rather than the whole 'cloak and dagger' approach in the UK, which is too often the case.  In the UK, there are LGBT inclusive churches, but in many cases an inclusive member of the clergy is not backed up by an inclusive congregation, or vice versa.  So many LGBT folk may find a clergy person who is inclusive, but they can't be seen to be LGBT by the rest of the congregation, and so are able to attend ... but not able to be themselves.

A montage of the front and back of two of St Gregory of Nyssa's business cards
A montage of the front and back of two of St Gregory of Nyssa's business cards
The other thing that impressed me is that there is no secret made of who is LGBT in the congregation ... they are able to mention their same sex husbands or wives in the prayers, ministry is offered to their whole families, and they are able to be in positions of leadership, and to use their gifts and passions to serve the church.  The other thing that I should make mention of is the fact that this was a congregation like any other - people were celebrating wedding anniversaries, praying for sick or dying loved ones, giving thanks for the blessings they'd received, they sought to apply the Scriptures to their lives, and shared bread together. They work for the good of the local community and are involved in the wider church.  There is nothing there that validates the unfounded fear that allowing LGBT people into the church will turn church into a singles club, or a dysfunctional camp bitch-fest (too late for that, many would say, the straight clergy already do that!), or somehow make it a less Godly place.

This is truly affirming and inclusive.  This is what the Church SHOULD look like. People should be able to attend, as themselves.  People should be able to bring their whole lives into the worshipping community, and they should be able to offer their time, talents and gifts for the Kingdom.

This is a far cry from being allowed to attend ... quietly ... without standing out.  A far cry from having to sit next to your partner, with no sign of affection between you, of pretending to be somebody else, so that people don't make you feel like a novelty or like an inferior Christian, because you're not able to overcome this modern 'affliction' of homosexuality.  People should be encouraged, affirmed, blessed & encouraged to belong as WHOLE people, so that they can better be who they were created to be.  We can't force beautifully created people into boxes that more easily fit our moulds.

This is what inclusive church looks like ... and it's utterly normal, and perfectly fabulous.

Here's a few pictures from the day ...
Where the service of the Word takes place. 
The octagonal space in which communion is celebrated.
A montage of some of the wall panels.

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