Imagery of church-related people and places.

Welcoming LGBTQ People to the Pews & the Pulpit

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By Amalia Vagts, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
& Leo Bancroft, ReconcilingWorks

“Our son came out of the closet,” he began, “and we went into one.”

Leo leads the ReconcilingWorks workshop.

Leo leads the ReconcilingWorks workshop.

Rick Nelson was speaking in a workshop led by ReconcilingWorks. His shared story drew the whole room into the deep truth of many families in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Mary Ann Nelson shared how their transgender child had been embraced and cared for by his Episcopalian church following a hospitalization. She shared how his church family cared for him in a way that his first church family had not. She looked out at the worship attendees gathered around the tables in front of her. “This could be our church.”

Her words hung in the air. They were a sentence. A charge. An invitation.

ReconcilingWorks and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries had been invited by the Southwestern Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to be part of regional one-day educational events. Our companion workshops were about welcoming LGBTQ into the pews and pulpits of the Lutheran church.

In the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries workshop we talked through the way many of us tend to minimize differences in order to avoid talking about them. One participant said, “It’s pretty comfortable being in a place of minimization – it seems like a lot of work to get out of it!”

We all knew what he meant. It is hard work. In our conversation, we focused on all the benefits and liberation awaiting our congregations if we do this hard work.

The ReconcilingWorks workshop reminded us of how high the stakes are if we don’t. Many people who have been welcomed into the pews are feeling that welcome comes with limits. Others feel silenced, unable to share even the joys of a granddaughter’s prom date or the pain of a son-in-law’s recent job loss.

“These are life-saving conversations,” Mary Ann shared. She said she was on a listserve with other mothers of transgender children. The night before our workshop, another mother wrote to say her child had committed suicide, because she had been unable to find a space of welcome and belonging.

“Too many of my friends in the LGBTQIA community believe there is no place for them in the church,” says Leo. “Too many of my friends have had heart-breaking experiences of rejection in faith communities. The church is not a safe space for many. The painful stories they tell me inspire me to give up my weekends traveling to various church settings to train congregations how to be more welcoming.”

Group photo

Leo, Bp. Richard Jaech, Jesus, Amalia, Rev. Jen Rude, Mary Ann & Rick Nelson.

The room where the ReconcilingWorks workshop was held had a statue of Jesus, with his arms spread open in embrace. Between the outspread arms of Jesus, Leo placed a flip chart page which read, “Welcoming LGBT Members into your pews: Reconciling Works – Welcome, Inclusion, Celebration of LGBTQ people in the Lutheran church.”

A few of the people stood up to take a picture of this moment, of Jesus embracing the work of welcome for the LGBTQ community. It was a poignant moment, illustrative of the hunger in our community for an acknowledgement of the love and hospitality of God, and the embrace of all people, no matter what.

The painful experiences that many have had in the church do not have to be the norm. We are touching lives and helping churches live into God’s welcome, even one training and one story at a time. There is hope, and there is grace.

We’ve come a long way. We’ve so much further to go. We do our work with joy in the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, and as a movement of people and organizations working together for the new day we all know awaits.

Leo Bancroft

photo by Emily Ann Garcia

Leo Channing Bancroft (he/him) has a passion for advocacy for both the HIV and LGBTQ communities. When he is not working a tech job or hanging from a trapeze, he is a member of the Board of Directors for Cascade AIDS Project and ReconcilingWorks. Leo serves as a volunteer Regional Coordinator for ReconcilingWorks, is a member of the Proclaim Community, and a candidate for ministry in the ELCA. He enjoys training, preaching, and sharing his story as a bisexual trans man to help make the church a safe and welcoming space.

Amalia Vagts

photo by Emily Ann Garcia

Amalia Vagts (she/her) has spent time in four cities in the last 7 days thankful to be working as Executive Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She’s especially glad for the chance to have joined Leo and Mary Ann & Rick Nelson (longtime advocates for LGBTQ justice) this past Saturday for their workshop.

*Names and stories used with permission.

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