Over the past few weeks I have been surrounded by constant reminders of barriers that are put up around participation in worship. I have been constantly aware of restrictions on participation as one with disabilities and recognizing our church buildings and especially sanctuaries were often designed and built without the ADA in mind (or prior to the ADA). And yet those very structures limit the ways in which the whole congregation can participate and aid in the leadership of worship.
Then comes the reminder that the church has not always been loving and welcoming to those that don’t fit our understanding of normal and what may be helpful for the whole congregation to be active in worship. As I have been actively working alongside other clergy in my area to host an interfaith Pride service for the LGBTQ community, I am ever mindful that the church has not always been welcoming to this community. I say that we are hosting this service because it is not for us but rather for this community so that they may know they are loved by people of faith and that there are indeed places of worship that have their doors open to individuals that have too often been hurt by institutions of faith.
As I walked along the sidewalk prior to the Pride Parade with a rainbow clerical collar on, I recognized the grace that was known because of my presence in opposition to protestors who threw statements of hate and disgust at our community members. As I sat on benches and talked with members of the LGBTQ community, I understood their pain caused by religious institutions while at the same time their gratitude for being willing to show up and be present without asking for anything in return.
As I am reminded of the harm churches have shoveled upon the heads of the LGBTQ community I have been shocked by the many conversations and many posts on social media of people being hurt, shunned, dismissed by the church because of mental, physical, or developmental disabilities. It is too easy for churches to plan their worship and life of the congregation to be nice and tidy but that is not reflective of our lives. It is not even reflective of our culture or mindful of the brokenness that is present within churches themselves. We like to think of worship of being a perfectly planned out service, when instead the occurrence of a service with 0 mistakes or typos is rare.
Perhaps this ideal of a perfectly orderly worship service is a part of why churches struggle with welcoming everyone into their doors. By holding up our desire for a perfect worship service and to be the perfect church we forget about the messiness of our lives and the need for accommodations for those that are differently able and engage worship in different ways. Churches could easily put ramps up to the chancel of the sanctuary, “but won’t that cause us to move everything around to make it work.” Churches could provide sign language interpreters for deaf members, “but where will they stand and won’t they be distracting for other people.” Churches could…fill in the blank…and why “it won’t work.”
So, while churches too often seek the perfect worship service, this often goes in opposition to saying that everyone is indeed welcome. When seeking to be perfect, churches and cultures drive away anyone that does not fit into the norm. It drives away those that see themselves as imperfect or not good enough. In part the message that is sent when perfection is the goal for church life is that in order to be a part of this service or community you have to take care of your “stuff” first, then you can be spiritually fed here.
My mind is drawn to the first creation story within the book of Genesis which spans the entirety of the first chapter and the first 4 verses of the second chapter. We hear this very orderly account of the creation of all that we know. From the stars to the smallest of organism on the earth. It is so orderly in fact that it makes us forget about the messiness that is found in the world. Or better yet those things that we name as imperfections or abnormal. This creation text was written at a time of chaos and disorder when the people were seeking to understand how God is able to overcome that chaos. We hear that in the beginning there was a formless void. No sense of order nothing has taken shape. There was chaos and as each day progressed God spoke things into existence in a very orderly and methodical manner, and as each item was created God called it good.
We love this sense of order but as we look upon God’s creation today and reflect over the texts that include people that do not fit the understanding of normal either in their context or today, we forget that they too have been created by God. We love the order of God’s creation until we have to face the reality that God’s creation does not always fit with our understanding of normal or perfection.
We love the idea of God’s perfect creation and in some ways, we try to live up to that while at the same time forgetting that it is our mission to bring healing into the world. We seek perfection and in doing so we often seek to live perfect lives where we do not get our hands dirty, or don’t take risks to make things better. While this way of being may have, us living in our own little bubbles of perfection it causes us to disassociate with anyone that we see as other.
That very action of disassociation goes against the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as our self. We are called to love all of our neighbors in spite of our imperfections. Yes, loving our neighbors is hard work, but I believe it has to start with recognizing that all of our neighbors are beloved children of God that God created in our mother’s wombs. Just as we claim the text from Psalm 139 to speak truth about our individual relationships with God we must also allow that text to speak the truth of our neighbors as well.
As we seek to live out our faith in this messy world we need to move away from seeking to be perfect in every way to moving towards making the world a better place. In order to bring about change in the world one has to show up and be present in the messy places of our world. We have to show up and provide a presence of grace as we recognize the harm that those that claim the same title of Christian have caused upon the LGBTQ community, and many other disenfranchised communities in our world.