I spent four days last week in lovely tropical Cleveland, OH, at the annual convention for the Covenant Network of Presbyterian Churches (CovNet), an organization of churches and individuals who affirm their welcome to the LGBT community. The event was similar to last year's, presenting top scholars who imparted a strategy of thinking for those who are new to the idea and excellent preachers whose sermons exemplified the welcoming experience.
We convened at the Church of the Covenant, ensconced in Cleveland's University Circle. This is a square mile concentration of university buildings, museums, art and music institutes, and a huge medical complex. In the midst of steel and glass, the church's hundred-year-old gothic building has been renovated to accommodate those who are physically handicapped, and I noticed that their new restrooms are unisex. (Credit Bilerico for making me aware of how important this distinction can be for some individuals.)
The talks and sermons were exemplary. With the pedigree of the speakers, I have to admit I expected as much. But I came away frustrated, even as I was impressed. It took me a while to figure out why.
I was alone for this trip, in spite of my efforts to have companions from my church and elsewhere. It turned out to be a good thing, for it gave me time for introspection. What was missing from this experience?
While there was an abundance of why we should be welcoming, there was no "how." There were glorious worship services that brought us all together, but no one was talking about how it could be done in a church that hasn't yet reached that stage of spiritual growth. I remember a similar frustration at last year's CovNet convention. But as I've linked, scrutinized and learned, I have come to realize that this group is fulfilling its role--and that is to convince what they call the "movable middle" of churchgoers (read "people who are straight") of the need to be inclusive.
I don't need to be convinced any more. What now? Well, that's why we have more than one advocacy group within our denomination and in others. More Light Presbyterians (MLP) is the organization that answers the "how" question. They're targeting the population that doesn't need convincing, which would include people who are LGBT.
MLP is more of a grassroots organization than CovNet, and they're crucial in getting things done. They are a participant in the ecumenical Building An Inclusive Church seminars, which present the concrete steps individuals and churches need to take in order to reach genuine inclusivity without rancor. It is this seminar which helped me determine a realistic timeline for my own church's journey to being out and proud in its welcome.
That journey is going to be a long one. We've barely begun, and it will take years. The glacial pace is agonizing, but with perseverance, faith and grace, we will be just--in time.
Postscript: There are two more national advocacy groups for inclusion within the Presbyterian denomination: That All May Freely Serve addresses specifically issues regarding ordination of LGBT individuals within our denomination; and The Witherspoon Society is a Presbyterian organization that promotes social justice in many arenas. Numerous regional advocacy groups reveal the growth in the past ten years of congregations that realize God's love and grace are for all people. It's inevitable, it's right, and it is overdue.