Something new took its place at Mill Plain United Methodist Church recently. We hung Reconciling Ministry banners on our bell tower. They include the Reconciling Ministry logo and the words, “You are welcome here.” You can see them driving east or west on Mill Plain Boulevard. We hope they say to everyone that indeed, they are welcome here. We hope that especially they communicate our welcome to people of all gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations.
As we were exploring becoming a Reconciling Church some people wondered why we needed to take that step, since we have always welcomed everyone. We learned that people from the LGBTQ community do not take their welcome for granted as there are churches which let them know, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that while they might be welcome, they will be criticized or judged for who they are. Therefore, as we truly do want to let the LGBTQ community know they will be safe at Mill Plain UMC we have to work a little harder to communicate that message, starting outside our building.
One concern that was raised as we explored Reconciling Ministry was the fear of vandalism if we put out a rainbow flag. Our banners are hung high enough that we hope they will not be easily vandalized. If they are they can be replaced. Just as important, they are above the level of clippings spread by our lawn mower!
Another concern raised about becoming a Reconciling Church was that it would take over our whole identity. We made that decision in December of 2021. Since then we have continued to engage in our traditional ministries of helping those in need. In a month’s period of time recently we bought 17 people about $30 worth of gas each – people who ring our bell and ask for our assistance. Recently when I told Joel we could help him he danced back to his car in joy. This summer we plan to again host Food Bank Fresh, a mobile food pantry. This winter we helped to staff the Winter Hospitality Overflow Shelters. Those are just some of our traditional ministries we continue. As we tentatively emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we have resumed singing in worship, our in-person attendance has grown even as we continue our Livestream worship. My point is that being a Reconciling Congregation has enhanced but not dominated our identity.
2 Timothy 1:7 notes, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Living out our faith calls us to boldness and confidence in who we are and the ministry to which God calls us. I am proud that Mill Plain has the confidence to hang banners from our bell tower that state openly and joyfully who we are without fear of what others will think of us. I am even prouder that we are growing in love and care for our neighborhood, in passionate worship, and in faithfulness to God.