How to Run the Welcoming Congregation Program
For more than twenty years, the Welcoming Congregation Program has helped Unitarian Universalist congregations become more welcoming and inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Every Welcoming Congregation Program Is Different
There’s no one way to run a program! It is meant to be created and planned by a congregational team to suit the needs and circumstances of your congregation. You get to design a unique program that will best help your congregation engage in the deepest way possible with the question of how to more intentionally welcome individuals, families, and communities of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Learn more about the history of the Welcoming Congregation Program and the many resources available to you.
The requirements for recognition as a Welcoming Congregation are:
- Measurable achievements in the areas of education, congregational life, and community outreach, using the Welcoming Congregation Guidelines and Action Steps as a guide.
- A congregational vote in affirmation of being recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) as a Welcoming Congregation (see below).
In addition, congregations are encouraged to pay particular attention to the following topics: transgender issues, bisexual and queer issues, and the intersection of sexual orientation and gender identity with other identity factors like age, race/ethnicity, class, and ability. Because these issues are often glossed over by the mainstream, there is a real need for these discussions in our congregations. Check out Identity 101 for more.
Getting started is often the most challenging step. Mobilizing support and energy can sometimes be difficult, and some congregations face other challenges.
Find Others—You Can’t Do It Alone
Feel out congregational leaders, gather supportive members around you, and engage in conversations about how to best move forward. The more listening, consultation, dialogue, and consensus that occur at the beginning between professional staff, trustees, boards, committees, and members of the congregation, the more likely your program is to succeed.
To build energy, many congregations hold a service focused around how a Welcoming Congregation Program would benefit the congregation and the community. Some bring in a guest speaker to talk about why focusing on welcoming this population is important.
Avoid Beginning with a Congregational Vote
In many congregations, a formal vote before educational opportunities creates conflict. It usually works better if the only consensus at the beginning is the agreement of lay and professional leadership to form a Welcoming Congregation committee to plan programming, just like any other committee that might form around a desire to contribute to the congregation.
Form a Welcoming Congregation Committee
Your committee or team should represent the diverse makeup of your congregation—members of all genders, sexual orientations, ages, cultural and racial groups, abilities, and backgrounds—and each member should be thoroughly committed to the goals of the program.
It is important to include at least one youth on your committee, if possible. It is also important to not expect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) members to provide all the energy and leadership required by the program. People who are “allies” of LGBTQ people need to assume leadership roles.
Plan Your Welcoming Congregation Program
Once you have formed a Welcoming Congregation committee, plan out programming that will best suit your congregation and take you to the next level in terms of your welcome and inclusion. Here are some suggestions:
Go over the Welcoming Congregation Guidelines and Action Steps and use them to create goals, make a plan for your programming, and decide on a time frame.
Consider undertaking education and team-building exercises as a committee to ground yourselves, build community together, and get on the same page before bringing programming to your larger congregation.
Reach out to other congregations that have recently done a Welcoming Congregation Program. Find out what their programming looked like, share best practices, and build relationships around this important work. Find Welcoming Congregations near you.
Reach out to local LGBTQ groups and organizations. Build relationships, ask how you can help their work, and brainstorm ways to bring their message to your congregation.
Offer programming that speaks to a variety of learning styles and scheduling needs. A workshop series is a central part of many programs but should never be the only component of your program--intentional education should happen in a variety of ways.
Offer programming that is balanced in terms of different areas of LGBTQ concern. Make sure your program isn’t dominated by a single issue, such as same-sex marriage/relationships.
Identify areas that might be more challenging for your congregation, such as transgender issues, bisexual experiences, queer identity, or issues of race/ethnicity and sexuality. Make sure your programming addresses your growing edges.
Plan activities and actions that address the three program components of education, congregational life, and community outreach. Here are options to consider:
- Ideas for Education
- Have worship services on LGBTQ issues
- Host a panel or round-table discussion on an LGBTQ issue
- Hold a LGBTQ film series with discussions
- Hold a congregation-wide common read and book discussion
- Make LGBTQ welcome and inclusion topics part of discussion forums before/after services or small group ministry groups
- Ideas for Congregational Life
- Adjust bylaws to include affirmative nondiscrimination language
- Add language welcoming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions to worship, orders of service, website, brochure, etc.
- Use welcoming language, images, and information on your congregation’s sign, on your bulletin boards, and in other areas
- Include news and information of LGBTQ concern in your newsletter, website, Facebook page, etc.
- Start providing inclusive language guidelines to worship coordinators and speakers as well as congregational leaders
- Make LGBTQ issues and history a regular part of your liturgical calendar and congregational year
- Designate one or more of your bathrooms gender neutral
- Institutionalize trainings/discussions for greeters/ushers and other volunteers and staff on welcome and inclusion
- Ideas for Community Outreach
- Host a public forum on an LGBTQ issue
- Hold an LGBTQ film series open to the public
- Participate in public events around LGBTQ issues
- Build and sustain relationships with local LGBTQ group(s) or organization(s); attend their events; ask how you can help
- Provide building space to LGBTQ community groups
- Institute regular events that serve particular LGBTQ populations; for example, a Pride Prom for LGBTQ and allied youth, a Thanksgiving "chosen family" dinner, or pancake breakfasts for LGBTQ elders
- Take action on a local, state, or national issue of LGBTQ concern
Plan out a program that moves at a pace that works for your congregation. An average program is about 18 months.
Some dive enthusiastically into educational work and move quickly on to community outreach. Others move more cautiously, building consensus and spending years having discussions and processing materials.
Of course, the welcoming process does not end when you apply for recognition, but most congregations are able to make substantive process within a year or two.
Monitor (and Celebrate!) Your Progress
As you move through your program, monitor your progress against the goals your Welcoming Congregation committee set and/or by using the Guidelines and Action Steps.
Keep your congregation informed as to what has been accomplished. Many congregations publicize their programming and offer updates on what their congregation has done so far on their website, on a bulletin board, and/or in their newsletter.
Take a Congregational Vote
Having a congregational vote in favor of being recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Welcoming Congregation is a requirement for Welcoming Congregation status. Most congregations do this as a final step before applying for recognition.
LGBTQ Ministries sometimes hears of resistance to the idea of voting on whether or not to welcome sexual and gender minorities. This is not what is being asked of you. Your vote is simply a vote on whether to be publicly recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Welcoming Congregation.
Once you’ve had your vote and feel that you have made measurable achievements in the areas of education, congregational life, and community outreach in regards to LGBTQ issues, apply for recognition.