June 15 2017 03:37 PM

Faith Lutheran Church celebrates LGBTQ-friendly recognition

Just in time for National Pride Month, Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos is spreading the word that its doors are open to all. In a public statement issued June 7, the church has made clear its intent to create a safe worship space for the LGBTQ community.

The statement comes after Faith Lutheran was recognized by the nonprofit ReconcilingWorks, an advocacy group for the equality of LGBTQ Lutherans. Since 1984, the organization has been helping to provide and identify safe space congregations, churches and other religious groups with its Reconciling in Christ, or RIC, recognition program.

“RIC is a designation that congregations receive when they adopt a public welcoming statement,” said Rich Weingartner, a Faith Lutheran congregation member and head of the team that led the church through the process of becoming RIC recognized.

Churches that become RIC recognized welcome all gender identities and sexual orientations, said Weingartner, adding that ReconcilingWorks strives to dismantle systematic injustices in faith-based settings and encourages the “adoption of a welcoming statement to fully welcome everyone was natural for our congregation.”

The process to become RIC recognized took about a year to complete and focused on outreach and education within the church to help the congregation learn more about the LGBTQ community. Even during the application process, Weingartner saw the church evolving in a positive direction.

“We have had an increased interest of people coming to our congregation, either as visitors or as members,” he said. “They want to be part of a congregation that is fully welcoming and affirming to all people.”

For Weingartner and many others, that’s a step in the right direction.

“As a gay Christian, I’ve struggled throughout my life trying to figure out what it means to be both gay and a Christian,” Weingartner said.

And while he has always felt welcome at the church, the RIC recognition assures him that he’s fully included in Faith Lutheran’s community. As the church moves forward with its officially LGBTQ-friendly congregation, Weingartner is excited for a future of inclusion.

“We will be assessing our building, signs and worship services to make sure they fully support our welcoming statement and that we are truly welcoming and inclusive to all people,” Weingartner said. “We will continue education events on a variety of topics of diversity to allow our congregation to continue to grow.”

To commemorate the new policy, Faith Lutheran will hold a diversity-based service this Sunday. The service will include passages, hymns and prayers focused on inclusion. “We are also encouraging people to wear something that reflects who they are and gives them a story to tell about what makes them unique,” Weingartner said.

And while Weingartner said the RIC designation specifically highlights equality for all sexual orientations and gender identities, Faith Lutheran is devoted to celebrating diversity in all forms and welcomes anyone just the way they are, no strings attached.

LGBTQ friendly churches are often difficult to find, especially in mid-Michigan. To Weingartner, Faith Lutheran is a place where everyone is not only welcomed but also affirmed, and he hopes Faith Lutheran’s RIC recognition will enable the LGTBQ community to find a safe place to worship and a loving congregation.

But most importantly to Weingartner, Faith Lutheran’s RIC recognition “reassures me that I am loved and accepted by God and the congregation, exactly as I am.”