Greater NW Pride: Hospitality: Welcoming People with Disabilities and LGBTQ+ People in the Church
Hospitality: Welcoming People with Disabilities and LGBTQ+ People in the Church
In the Rule of St. Benedict, we read that “all guests who arrive (are to) be received like Christ, for he is going to say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35), and to all let due honor be shown, especially to those who share our faith (Gal. 6:10) and to pilgrims…In the reception of the poor and pilgrims, the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received” (53:1-2, 15).
In churches, when working towards inclusion and integration of either people in the disability community or the community of LGBTQ people of faith, this is the first move towards making a gesture towards acceptance, inclusion, and full integration and participation of those of us who have been kept out of a church. Likewise, in a community of people who are disabled and those of us who are LGBTQ and people of faith, we are also called to practice certain gestures of welcome that may be a challenge after being kept out of most faith communities for the last two millennium.
The Rule of St. Benedict is a helpful way of understanding a truer, more authentic way of welcoming someone in the life of a church: as if she, he, or they are Christ. Imagine: the person who is disabled, or the person who is LGBTQ of faith being welcomed into a worship service, a fellowship time, a service project, or an educational event in the life of a church as if Christ is joining us. And by the way, since we are all created in the image of God, it is Christ who we welcome into the full and complex life of a congregation.
But this welcome is more than a hand shake and “hello, how are you?” gesture, followed by a name tag placed on our clothes. True welcome, authentic hospitality goes deeper than this. “Hospitality (or welcome) isn’t about anything as simple as (using) the best china, lace napkins and crystal wineglasses. It might include those things… but (hospitality is) making room inside yourself for another person.” (Lonni Collins Pratt and Fr. Daniel Homan, Benedict’s Way).
Making room inside yourself for another person. And that other person is Christ, regardless if one is considered by the world as "disabled" or self-identifies as LGBTQ+. She/he/they are Christ. "Greater care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received" (Rule of St. Benedict, see above).
For many mainline congregations that are largely cisgender, straight, and filled with a majority of people who are not self-identifying as disabled let along LGBTQ , making room in one’s life for the life of another who is not like me, you, or them, and who is Christ. What a blessing. What a challenge.
Likewise, communities of people with disabilities and those of us in the LGBTQ community and people of faith, who have been kept away from congregational life for over two millennium, in which denominations have written policies against welcoming people who are disabled, or who are LGBTQ , this move towards true, authentic welcome, is a challenge, to say the least. Dear welcoming church members: don't be surprised if we don't respond immediately. It make take us a few years to be sure you mean it, along with a change in church polity.
But in both cases—either from the perspective of the cisgender, straight, largely non-disabled faith community, and the community of people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community of people who are faithful—we are to see Christ one another, and treat one another as if she, he, or they are Christ. And in doing so, making room inside ourselves in welcoming the other.
It is just that simple. And it is just that hard.