Thursday, October 16, 2014

Expanding Welcome in Virginia Beach

Earlier this summer, as a service project in preparation for PrideFest, the Virginia Beach chapter of Integrity sent a mailing to each of the 105 churches in the Diocese of Southern Virginia asking if they would like to be identified as a Welcoming Congregation. A stamped postcard with yes, no and contact us was also included so the churches could easily return them. The chapter received 29 responses.

We took the positive responses and added them to our website, and created the Welcoming Churches list. We also created a handout and placed the congregations on a map for use at the Integrity booth at our annual PrideFest celebration. The handout and map were well received at PrideFest by the folks who visited the booth.

We also received a couple of invitations from churches to come and help educate others on what it meant to be a welcoming congregation and why it was important. This past Sunday, Board Member, Tina Finnerty and Chapter Convener, Susan Pederson visited the Church of the Ascension in Norfolk and spoke to the Adult Forum class. The church vestry voted to be identified as a welcoming congregation but had questions about why it was important.

“While it is great to be welcoming, unless others know, LGBT folks won’t know where it is safe for them to worship,” shared Tina who told her story of her own search for a welcoming congregation for her and her wife a couple years ago. “When I found a congregation nearby, I sent an email to the rector and asked if we would be welcome because there was nothing specific on their website, though there was a link to Rev. Susan Russell’s blog. I received an affirmative answer and we started attending that parish. Six months later we were both confirmed. Since that time, we have made changes to our website and now it is clearly posted that we are a welcoming congregation and we are presently waiting the official designation from Believe Out Loud.”

“The Virginia Beach Chapter of Integrity has a responsibility to our community, the Diocese and the LGBT folks in our area. We want to let everyone know that they are unconditionally loved by God, and that everyone can find a safe place to worship in an Episcopal Church in our Diocese,” Susan told the audience. “We’re here to help you on your journey to see just how that looks for Ascension.”

Tina Finnerty is a Board Member of the Virginia Beach Chapter of Integrity


Unknown said...

Tina and Susan, Thank you for doing this. Regards, Bill Hunter

Donna Price said...

It is important that Parishes continue to be identified at Believe Out Loud (BOL) congregations. As a member of the LGBTQ Community, when I travel I do not want to attend a service where I and others in my community may be called out for damnation from the pulpit. I prefer to attend services at an Episcopal church when on travel, but I will attend services at a BOL congregation from another denomination to be certain that I - and others like me - will be welcome.

Christian Paolino said...

Hi Donna:

I could not agree with you more. Many congregations are welcoming once you are inside them, but -- with no visible symbols either on their buildings or in their communications materials -- it is hard for newcomers to discern which churches are and which are not. "Everyone is welcome" is too ambiguous in a world where that often means "Everybody like us"

Any parish that is or aspires to be a place where LGBT people and everyone else are welcomed and celebrated should learn about the Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregations program. We will work with you to develop a plan that is in keeping with your mission and culture.

Christian Paolino
Stakeholders' Council Chair