The rhyme, “Ginny and Timmy, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage,” voices a common childhood wonder as we ponder who we might become. The sequence outlines a presumed order for each of us within life’s “normal” pattern.
As we grow older, however, we discover that there are many versions of this pattern, and the sequence isn’t always predictable. For some, there’s a marked change in the course of events: the baby comes prior to a marriage, or there is love but never a marriage, or there is marriage but no need for a baby carriage.
For some people, the traditional reference to gender doesn’t apply, as they encounter and engage in same-gender partnerships and relationships.
These realities sometimes become a part of our lives, our families, and our ELCA Lutheran congregations.
Aside from the different interpretations or opinions about any one of these relationships, there is a common issue at heart. They all reflect a deep desire for relationship, love and community. People want to feel welcomed, accepted and embraced for who they are. We all want to belong.
According to Matthew 28:19, the role of the church must be to go, without reservation, into the world and beneath each person’s life circumstance to provide opportunities for everyone to grow in a relationship with Jesus in a gracious, welcoming and redeeming community.
Ways to offer hospitality and welcome include:
- Nurture a climate that honors Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Assume that all who gather, including you, come with sin and a yearning for acceptance and forgiveness.
- Evaluate your programs and small-group ministries for inclusivity. Consider the implications and limitations of their titles and content.
- When planning programs for specific groups, be aware of your potential audience. Don’t assume that the stages within the family-life cycle correspond to a traditional family configuration, age range or orientation.
- Promote your programs and events in such a way that they will welcome anyone who may want to come, e.g., “Mothers with Young Children” could imply married and unmarried mothers. The success of these programs, however, is dependent upon the authentic hospitality of your leaders and participants.
- Train leaders to be nonjudgmental as they provide occasions for encountering God’s love and saving grace, and as they address real issues and life concerns.
- Embrace issues that are known to stress the hearts of members in your congregation and community. Provide resources for people to receive confidential support. Also, talk with individuals and families about the value of gathering together with others who may have a similar need for support.
- Pray for hearts of gracious hospitality so that our congregations do not withhold ministry or word and sacrament from anyone who comes with a humble heart and faithful intent.