What it Means to be Open and Affirming

Years ago I was asked to preach at an Open and Affirming church and the lectionary happened to be a portion of the epistles dedicated to unity and maturity within the body of Christ.  It was during yet another period of time in which there was much angst about political officials and the decisions they were making.

I spoke of the church’s long history of being open and rightful pride in itself on being affirming and accepting of all persons.  Then I asked, “Do we really mean it?”  I was greeted with confused looks, because of COURSE the church meant it.  It welcomed those whom society most often rejected and deemed unworthy.

“Let me ask a different way…If (name of much-distrusted political figure) walked through those front doors right now to join our service, would we welcome him with as much compassion and grace as we do others?”  Yeah, that went over well!  And, it made us all think as we asked that question honestly of one another. 

Faith Church voted to become Open and Affirming to LGBTQ+ persons in January of 2009.  This month, we will be sponsors of the Riverside Pride event in Landa Park.  You called an openly gay pastor, for goodness sake! 

But we still get to ask ourselves, in the spirit of maturity and depth of character and continued growth, “When we say we are Open and Affirming, do we really mean it, in all ways?” 

Whom would we not wholeheartedly welcome?  Who could walk through our doors whose presence would make us flinch and do anything other than greet them with an unreserved, genuine welcome?  What are the limits of our readiness to put feet to our faith when we say, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here”?  Where do we stop short when reaching out to let folks know about one of the best-kept secrets in New Braunfels? 

Recent visitors, long-time residents of the area, commented they had been to our church for events put on by other groups at our facilities on multiple occasions…and had absolutely NO clue we were a progressive community of faith. 

That is on us, and it is up to us to change that!  In a community such as ours, it would not be hard for an open-minded, welcoming church with an alternative Christian voice of inclusion and justice over judgment and inequality to stand out in the crowd. 

It is time to get incredibly creative about not keeping this church to ourselves, but instead to reach out in vocal, obvious, even risky ways to let people know that we are here.

Since I began serving as your pastor, I’ve often thought of the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears a Who and the Who’s as they shout to be heard and to save their community, “We are here!” 

Theodor Seuss Geisel held strong anti-Japanese sentiments during and after WWII, but changed his views substantially and began to work hard to relay the message the Japanese people should be treated equally and fairly, an unpopular message in the height of post-WWII hate and distrust of the nation of Japan and it’s people. 

Geisel came to value, in particular, the Japanese concept of the importance of the individual, which was a new idea for him.  It can be seen clearly in Horton’s words, “A person is a person, no matter how small.” 

As Horton works to save Whoville, he is constrained by other jungle animals who do not believe Whoville exists, to the point that his hands (limbs?) are literally tied and he cannot convince the other animals on his own.  So he asks the Mayor of Whoville to get the residents to all make noise so they can be heard and known by the other animals and therefore, be saves from doom. 

All do so, singing and shouting and playing instruments as loudly as they can to prove their existence and save their world, but no one hears them.  As the Mayor searches the community, he finds one small Who not making noise but, instead, quietly playing with a yoyo.  At the Mayor’s urging, little Jojo utters one loud word that is enough to finally let their collective voice be heard, proving their existence and saving their community.

Where can you make your voice be as part of Faith Church?  Whom can you invite to worship?  What neighborhood newsletter article or letter to the editor or social media post can you write or share with your own circles?  What cause is near and dear to your heart that you can engage in on behalf of Faith? 

What word can you utter and to what unreached communities to let others know, “We are here”?  There are folks hungry to know that a place like Faith exists; that there is a place where they can be Christian and practice radical hospitality and that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Research shows we need to hear about something 5 to 7 times before it becomes enough a part of our frame of reference that we express any interest or curiosity about it—“What’s the name of that church, again?”

No matter how small you may feel your voice to be, my dear Jojos, yours may be just the final word that let’s others hear our collective message of God’s wasteful grace and unqualified love.  So let’s find ways to speak, for the sake of our church and the sake of those to need to know that we are Faith and the are, most definitely, here!

You can participate by joining us at the Blessing of the Hands June 7th, New Braunfels Pride June 26th, welcoming our new members, responding to our Survey about in-person worship, and helping ready the church for our return to the sanctuary later this month! 

All of us, together, will let the surrounding community and our world know that We ARE here!