by Rev. Annie Kopko, Associate Minister
We want to be a community that will “Welcome the strange, not just the stranger.”
The ministers at our beloved Center have been discussing this ever since Rev. Delyth and I attended a workshop last September. This workshop was organized to help faith communities come together and learn how we can become more inclusive and welcoming of LGBTQ individuals.
LGBTQIA = LESBIAN, BI-SEXUAL, GAY, TRANSGENDER, INTERSEX, OR ASEXUAL
As a follow-up to what we learned at the September workshop, our Center will welcome Rev. Dr. Julie Nemecek to speak at the Sunday service on January 15. Reverend Julie is both an ordained Baptist minister and one of Michigan’s leading voices on transgender issues. She has worked with many churches on becoming an open and affirming church (inclusive of LGBTQIA people).
We are very excited to bring this issue to our community. The truth is that many people have been rejected by their own conservative religious communities for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual. We believe that every person deserves to find acceptance in spiritual and religious communities, no matter what their sexual preference.
Now is the Time to Look at Our Inclusivity
I am especially conscious that due to the results of our national election in November, the voices of fear and hate have been given more permission to be unleashed upon vulnerable individuals in many minority communities, including those who are LGBTQIA or immigrants. As a result, I have personally resolved to become more open minded and actively supportive of individual rights and needs for acceptance and love. One of my spiritual teachers used to ask her students:
“Are you willing to be disturbed?”
And now, I ask our ICSG community:
“Are we willing to be welcoming despite our discomfort around someone who appears to be strange?”
Discomfort with the unfamiliar is a normal human reaction. But we can choose to explore our feelings rather than allowing an initially negative reaction to arise in our consciousness and remain unexamined. Obviously we have more comfort around people like ourselves. But we can be welcoming to all people, nonetheless.
There is a movement in Michigan and across the nation for faith communities to be more welcoming. I personally like this unique example of an inclusive faith community. The House for All Sinners and Saints is a Denver Church affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber started it 2008. Her book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People was listed among the Best Books of 2015 by National Public Radio (NPR).
Rev. Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic and Lutheran pastor. She established this welcoming community in Denver as “the church that she would want to show up to.” She recognized that everyone needs to be loved and accepted, and she made it happen there.
We make it happen at our spiritual community too. And as we explore our conscious ability to be more loving, we can make it happen more often. Communities like ours that are Spiritual-But-Not-Religious have a unique opportunity to heal the wounds of intolerance toward LGBTQIA people, because so many in this group do not identify with any religion. They may not even believe in God. I hope that people don’t think they have to believe in God to be part of our community.
5 Steps To Increase Your Openness
For our beloved Interfaith Center, consciously exploring this issue is an opportunity to grow spiritually in ways we may never have imagined. It is an opportunity to open our minds and hearts to other people and new ideas; and to expand our consciousness to feel compassion where we may not have before.
When you feel discomfort around another person, you can make a choice to focus on what you have in common with them. I guarantee that you have more in common than not. The Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh offers a unique Buddhist meditation to help us grow in compassion towards those who may seem different. Try these steps whenever you feel challenged:
Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/ her life.”
Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
I look forward to learning and growing with all of you as we consciously explore our openness in the coming weeks and months!