I remember years ago now, 28 years ago actually, when I first came to serve as the pastor of Wright’s Chapel. It was 1992. I had invited my friend and mentor in ministry Rev. Jackson to come and preach at Wright’s Chapel. Rev Jackson had led me into ministry in the United Methodist Church. He had coached me, guided me, laid hands on me when I was ordained and now I was so pleased to invite him to preach at the church I had been appointed to serve. It was a great Sunday.
There was one person in the pews that day though (back in that day we had pews at Wright’s Chapel) who was not happy. It was an older lady who I loved dearly, yet she let me know that she did not appreciate me inviting my friend, Rev. Jackson to preach at Wright’s Chapel. She said it was the first time an African American pastor had preached in her church and she didn’t think I needed to be pushing the race issue. I was so caught off guard by her comment I didn’t know what to say.
So I remember I went to see her that afternoon at her home to talk to her about her frustration with me and mine with her. I tried to express to her that I loved her and cared about her. I did let her know that Wright’s Chapel wasn’t her church, anymore than it is my church, but that she basically had two choices. She could leave Wright’s Chapel or she could work as hard as she could to make me leave. But I expressed to her that as I long as I was pastor, I would do my best to make sure everyone was welcome to come and to worship God, to try and follow Jesus and to be a part of the ministry of this place. I told her our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who will transform the world for God.
She stayed at Wright’s Chapel and I invited Rev Jackson back on several other occasions to preach and to baptize my children. I don’t know if she ever had a change of heart, but she kept coming to Wright’s Chapel even as our church grew and became more and more diverse. She died many years ago now and I was pleased to preach her funeral. I’ve often thought of her and my friend Rev Jackson, who I also helped preach his funeral, sitting together at the banquet table of God.
One of the many things I love about Wright’s Chapel is that we have created a more diverse congregation than many churches I know. We are not diverse in every way. We still have work to do, but we do have folks from lots of different backgrounds; young and old, differing physical and mental abilities, differing sexual orientations, different family make-up, economic differences, racial differences. I think our diversity as a congregation is one of our strengths and it gives us all a better picture of who our Creator is and reminds that we are all a part of God’s family.
Recently, there have been some questions raised in our United Methodist Denomination about whether we will welcome all people. We have been arguing/fighting as a denomination over the issue of ordaining and marrying LGBTQ persons. That has led to some outside our church to wonder whether their LGBTQ family members and friends would be welcome to worship and participate in the life of a United Methodist Church.
Recently a family in our church approached me and asked if it would be all right for them to invite their neighbor, who is gay, to come to church with them. I almost cried that they even felt like they had to ask the question. Yes, I said, all are welcome. Please invite them.
But our inclusivity is also about more than just LGBTQ. Another family who has a child with autism was shocked to hear that we would welcome their child. They haven’t found a church yet where they could worship, because of the many needs of their child. I told them about my own daughter Sophia who comes to worship every Sunday and how we have even hired staff to care for our young people with special needs who many struggle to stay in worship.
So that we can be clear about where we stand on welcoming all people at Wright’s Chapel, our Administrative Council recently adopted this statement and we placed it on our website so that those who are considering visiting our church will know they are welcome here even before they come.
Wright’s Chapel UMC believes that ALL individuals are persons of sacred worth. We welcome and affirm all persons without regard to gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, physical and mental ability, marital status, economic condition, faith history, family makeup, or anything else which threatens to divide God’s family. We recognize that there are differences among us, but believe that we can love alike even though we may not think alike. In our quest to follow the example of Christ, we commit to making justice and inclusivity a reality in this congregation and in the world. We commit ourselves to loving acts of invitation, hospitality, and reconciliation, providing ministry to, for, and with all persons without exception. We welcome all people to worship, leadership and full ministry in the life of the church.
Thank you for being the church that you are and for seeking to make disciples of all people and transforming the world for God!