My congregation, First Unitarian Universalist Society of Syracuse, recently hosted a Building Beloved Community Beyond the Binary conference. This is the second time we have hosted this conference that focuses on transgender identity. Last year, we had Kate Bornstein as the keynote speaker, and this year we had S. Bear Bergman as the keynote. We are a small, 111 member, congregation in upstate NY. Not the first place you would think would host a conference like this. This year we had 125 people at the conference, and most of those folks were from outside our congregation from the larger community. It was a wonderful day. My congregation opened its doors to non UU folk of all kinds, trans, non-binary, gay, lesbian, cisgender, allies, teachers, nurses, parents, kids, social workers, and more. All these folks gathered to learn, to connect, to bend the arc just a little closer to justice. People felt welcomed and safe which is really what made it a great day.
You might wonder why a little church in upstate NY is doing this. There are many reasons, but the most pertinent one is that we are a congregation of deep welcome. We know and practice it. We are certified as a “Welcoming Congregation,” and we know that if that means anything then we have to practice welcome. We know that historically churches have not been safe places for LGBTQ folk. We know that if we are going to help change that we have to do more than hang a rainbow flag out front and open your door.
In the history of this wonderful congregation they had a minister who came out as gay while he was their minister. It was a tough time for him and them. But they chose to stay with him and work it through. They saw his troubles and they stood by him. They came to understand in a very deep way the need for a spiritual community that affirms everyone’s gender and orientation, not just the ones that fall into a narrow parameter.
I am seeing something happen in my congregation at this time. We are beginning to work a process to look at our own racial biases and white supremacy. We have hung a BLM banner. And so far this process has been difficult but respectful. I have seen people disagree, I have seen people called to account, and I have seen people take a deep breath and sit with their discomfort in order to try to be better allies. It seems to me that the welcome they have been working on around LGBTQ has opened their hearts to understanding that welcome does not stop at orientation or gender but as UUs we are answering the call to love, and welcome.
Perhaps it is their Universalist heritage, but this welcome it is in their bones. I am so proud of my wonderful congregation.