10 Ways to Go Beyond Welcoming and Affirming

Being a welcoming and affirming congregations requires going beyond publicly proclaiming that “all are welcome.” If lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) people enter your faith community, will they actually experience welcome? Many congregations that profess to welcoming LGBTQ people don’t talk much about LGBTQ issues or aren’t prepared to address the needs of LGBTQ people in ministry. In part, that may because many faith communities are uncomfortable or under-educated about sexuality in general. Here are some ideas for breaking the silence around sexuality and around LGBTQ identities in your faith community.

  1. Talk with various groups in your faith community (e.g. parents, couples, LGBTQ people, young people) about sexuality programs they would like to offered. Many denominations offer sexuality education resources, LGBTQ-specific resources, marriage and relationship enrichment programs, and support groups for congregants experiencing specific issues (adoptive parents, people with HIV, divorce groups, etc.). Create team of clergy and lay people to develop a plan for moving the congregation forward.
  2. Ensure that clergy and staff have sexuality training that goes beyond abuse prevention and addresses sexual health, sexuality issues in ministry, and sexual justice concerns.
  3. Make an explicit statement—on your web site, in membership materials, on bulletin boards and other communications—that your faith community is welcoming and affirming to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members. Read this statement aloud each week, saying each group individually. Share that clergy and staff are prepared to address sexuality issues in pastoral care with confidentiality and compassion.
  4. Preach a sermon or sermon series on sexuality, creation and embodiment, or the role of women and LGBTQ people in your faith tradition.
  5. Observe important dates connected to sexuality issues – e.g., Transgender Visibility Day (March 31); National Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Month(May); LGBTQ Pride Month (June); National Coming Out Day (October 11); Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20); or World AIDS Day (December 1), etc. Use sermons, prayers, and bulletin inserts to connect these events with faith.
  6. Lead a religious education session or bible study on scriptural themes of sexuality, gender, marriage, love, and family.
  7. Convene an adult forum or study group on one or more sexuality issues being discussed in the news of the day, such as anti-LGBTQ bills, discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, the recent murder of transgender women of color, the effects of affordable healthcare on LGBTQ communities, the impact of “defunding” Planned Parenthood on healthcare and sexuality education for LGBTQ people, etc. Invite a guest speaker or preacher to address these issues. If your denomination has published a statement or study on sexuality, this could be another springboard for discussion.
  8. Screen a feature film or documentary that deals with a contemporary sexuality issue – e.g., “Moonlight” and homosexuality, National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” and transgender identity, or “Juno” and teen pregnancy – and lead a group discussion.
  9. Host an open meeting for your congregants with leaders of a local LGBTQ advocacy organizationor sexual and reproductive health agency, such as Planned Parenthood. Make pamphlets and other resources from these agencies available to your congregants, and ensure that clergy and staff have contacts for referrals.
  10. Add books on sexuality and religion to your library, and let congregants know they are there.
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