‘Open wide your hearts,’ Bishop urges churches

Eastern PA Conference members should read Bishop Peggy Johnson’s recent blog essay, Open wide your hearts. She challenges us to live out the popular United Methodist Church motto “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” so that it’s not just a (false?) advertising campaign slogan but a true, welcoming promise to all.

“Do we welcome everyone in our churches in the Eastern PA Conference?” she asks.  “Everyone includes all races, ethnicities, genders or gender identities, sexual orientations, marital statuses, abilities, ages, theological perspectives and socio-economic classes….We should strive to be as inclusive and loving as possible. That is what people are hungering for, and it is what we should be planning and reaching for.”

This bishop reminds us of Annual Conference Resolution 2016-17 (Resolution on Radical Welcome), approved as amended in June. It states: “Therefore be it resolved that the Eastern PA Annual Conference encourages all churches to practice radical welcome to LGBTQ persons in specific and tangible ways.”

outfest-2016-300x281It also invites churches to participate as a welcoming presence at the upcoming 26th annual Philadelphia OutFest 2016, purportedly the nation’s largest, on Sunday, Oct. 9. The event is related to National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ persons, which will be on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

The Eastern PA Conference Reconciling Ministries Network posted on its website last week a letter it sent to our 417 churches, reminding them of the resolution and suggesting ways to “practice radical welcome to LGBTQ persons.” National Coming Out Day, it reads, is “a day that invites LGBT persons to step out of the fear that has diminished their lives and kept them closeted, a day that invites all of us to make safe such openness by the welcome we extend, welcome that is literally a matter of life and death…”

The letter, like the resolution, cites “high incidences of attempted suicide and homelessness of teens who identify as LGBT. The principal reason reported by these youth for both their homelessness and suicide attempts is rejection by their families of origin and/or their churches.

“Regardless of their stance on practices,” it continues, “all United Methodist churches affirm the sacred worth of LGBT persons and proclaim the love of Christ for all.  Sunday, October 9, is a day to make clear that all truly means all, by welcoming explicitly persons who too often have felt judged or excluded from churches of Jesus Christ.”