Letter from the Open and Affirming Ministry Team
United Church of Christ
September 24, 2015
Dear Open and Affirming Community,
Churches living into their open and affirming statements are saving lives. Communities who throw their doors open and say, “Really, we mean it, YOU are welcome here” provide a safe harbor where there might not be one, anywhere. For folks who are transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay or anywhere in-between or beyond those spectrums of identity, finding a space that affirms and celebrates them is rare. And so very, very powerful. One approaching way to echo that power and show the love of God is by hosting a vigil on the upcoming Trans Day of Remembrance on November 20th, or a Sunday service surrounding.
Trans Day of Remembrance; a national day of mourning for those who have been murdered, happens every year on November 20th. Transgender Day of Remembrance has been holding vigil space for 15 years, and is an amazing opportunity to hold space for the community to mourn, and be supported. The list of names will come out closer to the date, and updated information will be posted at www.glaad.org/tdor.
As much as we like to consider ourselves “already welcoming everyone,” for some, they can’t assume a welcome until finding a sign somewhere. My husband wouldn’t even walk into a church … until one time, he saw a rainbow sticker on a door, and knew it would be safe. A few months later, the church he was a part of re-examined their ONA statement to include transgender and gender nonconforming people, and intentionally educated themselves on how to be hospitable and welcoming. When the statement passed to reaffirm and widen their commitment towards the trans community, he wept. As a transgender man*, he’d never felt that in a church before. What enactment of Gospel to widen the welcome and find community that embraced him fully! What power to be seen, and held out to God in grace and affirmation!
Especially as the national conversation on trans justice picks up, I would urge us, too, to consider how our congregations are welcoming the trans community. Do our ONA statements explicitly state that trans folks are welcome? Do our generic photos or bulletin boards reflect images of all kinds of families? How does our building, language and community make space for those who live beyond the binary? Are the single stall bathrooms in our churches labeled “gender neutral?” Does worship language invite relationships to brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ? In an era where LGBT bullying and suicide of trans and gender nonconforming youth is more common than we know, do they know that they are safe in our churches?
Do we lift prayers of lamentation when our siblings in Christ are murdered or die by suicide as a result of their gender identity and expression? Maybe this year is the year for us to start! We invite you to lean in to solidarity, finding space in our community to name the injustice, and act.
A few tips:
- Do learn if there is already an event in your area.
- Do invite the local trans and LGB community to participate, and enter into this space.
- Do invite trans preachers and speakers to lead and to help. (If people are not already involved in your congregation and are donating their time, as a justice issue, pay them. The wage gap, for those who can find jobs, is egregious.)
- Do education seminars at your congregation! MaeBright Group LLC is a great resource.
- Do be vocal about your event and your support! Contact the newspapers! Vocal support is rare. And it saves lives. When 41% of trans people admit to considering suicide (compared to 4.6% of the population at large) this is necessary.
- Don’t stop there! Continue the conversation. Educate, advocate, and make a powerful space of welcome in your church that engages the power of showing up and creating safe space for all: in celebration and affirmation of their gender identity and expression.
May God, who has created us all in our precious uniqueness, bless you on your continued commitment to Be God’s Church in this world.
Rev. Chris Davies
Rev. Kent Siladi
Open and Affirming Ministry Team
*His level of disclosure is high, and he knows I am writing this. Tip: Always make sure you have permission from someone before sharing their personal story and journey, in any context.