What we don't hear much about is how inclusion is attracting new people, especially those who feel on the fringes, or alienated, or who have never been a part of a faith community.
The Rev. Susan Russell, who is one of the guiding forces of Integrity, the organization that has worked for years for inclusion, wrote this the other day on her blog about a meeting in Phoenix of the Episcopal Church Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music. A friend of mine said this is item from Susan is a show stopper, and it is. And I am proud to know most of the people in the photo (SCLM Task Force Team: Patrick Malloy, Susan Russell, Thad Bennett, Ruth Meyers (chair), Jay Johnson).
Here is an excerpt from Susan's blog:
From An Inch at A Time...
A Missional Moment (AKA "Dessert with a side of Evangelism")
By Susan Russell
The conversation in the room was lively and energetic – and at the end of the session Bishop Kee Sloan (Bishop Suffragan, Alabama and a member of the SCLM) invited those who wanted to continue the conversation with us to grab some lunch after Eucharist and come back to the plenary room. About a dozen folks chose to do that and we had a great opportunity to clarify some questions, engage in some very interesting dialogue and get feedback on both process and content.
One comment that really stood out for me was a bishop’s challenge to us to add “Missional” to the list of opportunities the blessing of same sex relationships offers the church – a list that already included “Sacramental” and “Eschatological.” And of course I agree. This work isn’t just about the couples whose relationships will be blessed. It’s also about the mission of the church that will be blessed by a more expansive opportunity to incarnate God’s inclusive love.
I had no idea how soon we would get a chance to experience one of those missional opportunities in action.
So – having concluded the presentation part of the day we had a late lunch and then took some time out (AKA “naps!") and then reconvened to debrief our work over dinner in the hotel dining room. There was a lot to talk about – and we settled into a long, lively dinner that included a dessert course with a side order of evangelism as three young hotel staff members came up to the table and individually engaged with us about the work the Episcopal Church is doing.
The first one was a waiter – “Michael” – who said as a gay man it had never occurred to him that there were churches that would welcome him rather than condemn him. He thanked us for giving him hope that he hadn’t imagined he’d ever have with an earnestness that was deeply moving.
A few minutes later “Amanda” … our waitress … came up to the table to say that she’d encouraged Michael to come talk to us because she’d found him crying in the kitchen after listening to our conversations. She was raised Catholic but it “didn’t fit” anymore and she wanted to know where she should go to find an Episcopal Church. I gave her my card and told her to email me and I’d hook her up with folks in Phoenix.
The third was “Vanessa” … their supervisor … who thanked us for connecting with them and told us about her experience of finally finding a church home that helped her claim a relationship with God … and then being devastated when that church family rejected her gay friend. She’s going to email me, too.
It blew us away.
While we were obsessing about perfecting PowerPoint slides and refining our messaging about the SCLM project, these earnest young people responded to the few crumbs of conversation they overheard at our dinner table like they were starving for hope. And if those crumbs gave them that hope and energy – and gave them the courage to come up to a table full of “church people” and say, “Wow … we want to know more about what you’re talking about!” then imagine how they and countless others like them are yearning for the banquet we set every time we gather to witness to God’s inclusive love.
It is about mission.
It is about the building of the Body.
And it is about the vocation of the Episcopal Church to be the voice of love, justice and compassion to ALL those yearning for what Michael and Amanda and Vanessa came looking for at our dinner table last night.