Saturday, August 22, 2009

We are the church together!

The news out of Minneapolis is wonderful!  

This week, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to:
 - allow partnered gay men & lesbians to become ministerial leaders in the church
   - allow congregations to recognize same-sex unions
 - approve a comprehensive, inclusive social statement on human sexuality

The ELCA also finalized a "full communion" agreement with the United Methodist Church, enabling the two denominations to forge a stronger, mutually supportive relationship.  

Cambridge Welcoming Ministries lifts up prayers of thanksgiving and tears of joy that the doors of inclusion are being thrown open, and we rejoice with our siblings in the ELCA!  
What an auspicious time for the ELCA and UMC to enter into a deeper relationship!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

how do we embody welcome?

My best friend and I have been talking recently about issues of church accessibility. [See also her post here, where she focuses on welcome as it relates to physical dis/ability.]

I expect we at CWM would say that we would be happy to do whatever necessary to be inclusive and accessible to people who are worshiping with us -- and I have seen us do that -- but there's something problematic about saying that we will make accommodations only when someone asks us to. (It reminds me of discussions around becoming "officially" a Reconciling congregation -- both the power of explicit public statements, and the obligation to combine statements with tangible actions.)

But when we're a small community with limited resources, how do we decide how to use those limited resources?

I don't have answers to the question of how to manage that balance, but I do want to lift up some of the different ways in which a church can be inclusive and get us thinking.

My best friend said (in the above-linked post), "Inviting someone to church when they can't get in the door, hear the sermon, or share fellowship without going into anaphalactic shock is an empty invitation." I think this is a really powerful statement.


In the spoken welcome which opens each Sunday's service, we explicitly welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and straight persons. I have said before that this is something that's really valuable to me. (We also explicitly welcome those who are newcomers and those who are long-time attendees, as well as people of many other different kinds, and that part of the welcome is also something I really appreciate.)

The bathrooms on our floor are clearly gender demarcated, but there's a wheelchair-accessible not-gender-marked bathroom on the first floor. Though see below re: stair-alternative accessibility.

Physical ability

We worship on the second floor, and I'm fairly confident that there is no elevator in this building. (You would think that having worshiped in this building for two and a half years now I might know this. Witness my able-bodied privilege.)

Edit: I have been informed by a member of CAUMC (whose building we use) that, "There is an elevator kitty-corner from the parlor; I think it works. I know I've seen people use it when there have been potlucks." Learn something new every day! /edit

When Kirk worshiped with us, we had an ASL interpreter, but we don't have one now, nor do our website or bulletins say anything about our willingness to hire one (though I know that we would be happy to hire one again). Will Green (who no longer worships with us on a regular basis, now that he's based in Hull) and I both took ASL, but neither of us knows enough to really engage in that way with someone who's Deaf. (This also raises the issue of accessibility to people whose primary spoken/written language is not English.)

We don't have a sound system to make the service more accessible to the hearing-impaired, or large-print or Braille bulletins for people with vision impairments.

Our seating arrangement is a series of moveable chairs, which makes it very accessible for people who can't (comfortably or at all) sit in traditional pews (witness Michele putting her sprained ankle up on a chair while she sat during service this most recent Sunday, for example).

Food and drink

As good Methodists, we have non-alcoholic "fruit of the vine" for Communion (though the fact that we don't have an alcoholic option is in some ways exclusive; I know people for whom it's really important to imbibe actual wine when taking Communion).
We don't have gluten-free Communion bread (I also have no idea if our Communion bread is vegan).

We offer dinner after service every Sunday, and all are welcome to join/stay for dinner. (We also mention this on the website.)

We always have vegetarian options at dinner, though we're less good about making sure that we have sufficient vegan options (which is something that we should really work on since we do have actual vegans worshiping with us, so this isn't a theoretical issue of inclusivity). And yes, I know that of the small congregation, it's an even smaller subset of people who routinely provide dinner, and I'm certainly not helping that problem by volunteering to provide dinner myself.
We also don't do a great job of labeling ingredients (for people who are vegan, are lactose-intolerant, have a gluten intolerance, have peanut allergies, etc.), though I have noticed in recent weeks that whomever provided dinner will announce relevant information like "contains dairy" or "doesn't contain gluten" -- and during the closing announcements we announce who provided dinner, so everyone knows who to ask if they have questions about ingredients.