The First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, NY, is a “welcoming congregation” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT).
What does that mean, and why just welcome LGBTs?
Our congregation has participated in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “welcoming congregation program” and has completed the series of educational workshops with the goal of bringing about a positive change. We believe in supporting the “spiritual, political, and social well-being of Unitarian Universalists who are confronting oppression as lesbians, gay men, bisexual persons, and transgender persons…” (from Interweave).
We single out LGBTs as particularly deserving of our welcome with recognition that institutionalized churches have, for centuries, been a force in the persecution of these minorities. We would like to do our part in redressing these prejudices. As the Rev. Douglas Morgan Strong writes in the welcoming congregation manual: “as a subculture in society gay, lesbian, [transgender], and bisexual people may need our support more than [does] the general population.”
In 1987 the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) established the Common Vision Planning Committee. This committee found many negative attitudes, deep prejudices, and profound ignorance about bisexual, gay, and lesbian people, which resulted in the exclusion of bisexual, gay, and lesbian people from their churches. As a result of these findings, the delegates of the 1989 UUA General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to initiate the Welcoming Congregation program to educate its members. Each congregation adapts the program to best meet its goals and each unique situation can bring positive changes to individuals and congregation.
For more information about the UUA guidelines for Welcoming Congregations, click here.
Any congregation that publicly and successfully welcomes bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people has the following qualities:
- Includes and addresses the needs of b/g/l/t persons at every level of congregational life—in worship, in programs, in social occasions, and in rites of passage—welcoming not only their presence, but the gifts and particularities of their lives as well.
- Assumes the presence of b/g/l/t people and celebrates this diversity by having inclusive language and content in their worship programs.
- Fully incorporates the experiences of b/g/l/t persons throughout all programs, including religious education.
- Includes an affirmation and nondiscrimination clause in its by-laws and other official documents affecting all dimensions of congregational life, including membership, hiring practices, and the calling of religious professionals.
- Engages in outreach into the b/g/l/t community in its advertising and by actively supporting b/g/l/t affirmative groups.
- Offers congregational and ministerial support for union and memorial services for b/g/l/t persons, and for celebrations of...family definitions.
- Celebrates the lives of all people and welcomes same-sex couples, recognizing their committed relationships; and equally affirms displays of caring and affection without regard to sexual orientation.
- Seeks to nurture ongoing dialogues among bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and heterosexual persons; and seeks to create deeper trust and sharing among individuals.
- Encourages the presence of a chapter of Interweave.
- Affirms and celebrates b/g/l/t issues and history during the church year.
- Attends to legislative developments and works to promote justice, freedom, and equality in the larger society.
- Speaks out when the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people are at stake.
- Celebrates the lives of all people and their ways of expressing their love for each other.
AREN’T WE ALREADY A WELCOMING CONGREGATION?
The First Unitarian Society of Ithaca meets most of, if not all, the qualifications for being a Welcoming Congregation. For instance, our church by-laws state that we do “not discriminate on the basis of age, race, occupation, gender, past religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.” Our congregation already includes bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons who are active members and participants in church programs, willing to give of themselves and share their experiences with us. However, official recognition as a Welcoming Congregation is important as it allows us to open our church as a safe space for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons to take positions on oppression in our larger communities; and to accomplish outreach.
HOW WILL BEING A WELCOMING CONGREGATION BENEFIT ME?
Confronting our prejudices in a non-judgmental, non-threatening group allows us to explore their origins and offers an opportunity to replace those prejudices with knowledge. Understanding our prejudices leads to individual spiritual growth and congregational unity.