Organizations that Swish August 7, 2013

Inclusivity in the Church: An Interview with Rev. Patt Kaufman of St. Peter's Lutheran

St. Peters

Say a Little Prayer

By Miranda Southwell

In my last article about the Reconciling in Christ movement, accessible here, I highlighted the great efforts local churches like St. Peter’s in Port Jervis, NY are taking to become all-inclusive congregations. By doing this, they have been able to extend their services to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Reconciling in Christ congregations are sprouting up all over the place, from places as varied as Greenwich Village (home of St. John’s) to small towns like Port Jervis in the suburbs of NY State. Though this has been considered by many to be a most progressive step, it is not entirely without its difficulties. For one thing, the history between churches of any denomination and the LGBT population has long been contentious, and has galvanized many of the formerly faithful against the church and their faith. Stitching them back into the fold is no easy task, and neither is attracting new members in general.

Many people today make no time for spirituality because they carry with them the childhood memories of church as an obligation and organized religion as stifling. Now that they have their adult freedom, other things simply take priority in their lives. What many fail to consider is how wonderfully reassuring and emboldening belief can be. Organized religion doesn’t have to be a tyrannical regime, it can serve as a guidepost for abstract concepts you choose to put faith in (light, love, peace) by solidifying them into parables and prayers and making them relevant to your existence now.

Another thing to consider when speculating over the importance of faith in today’s society is that although we are told to “live in the now,” “now” is just a fleeting dream and regardless of how it ends, we can find solace through the bumps and pitfalls with our faith. We can look forward to something more. And more importantly, we’re compelled to look within and find that higher thinking “God-Self” that only wants the best for everyone because we see ourselves in each other - partly flawed, partly divine and all alike. As we find ourselves more immersed within the world than ever before through technology, it’s important we hone our sense of soul to avoid becoming organic machines, plugged in...but never really “on.”

To gain a deeper perspective of the integral work St. Peter’s and other Reconciling in Christ congregations undertake on a daily basis, I decided to interview the Reverend Patt Kauffman. Revered Patt is the heart and soul of her church community and her unwavering dedication to helping LGBT populations goes beyond that of a progressive clergy member; it is a lifelong support stemming from her status as both a straight ally and mother of a gay child. In her words...

 

What do you feel has been the biggest mistake or disservice the church has done to the LGBT community in years past?

As we say in our confession, the extended version that we use to start our special Reconciling Sunday liturgy, the church for too long has treated our LGBTQ community as ‘less than’.  Many have died waiting for the church to be bold in its witness, that Jesus came for all, not just some, and our loving response must be service and care and love for all humanity.

The church has been for too long a hate monger; promulgating a gospel and a law that I believe Jesus would have found antithetical to why He came, and what his coming was supposed to do – mainly, teach us to love each other and to love God. But the church also has the responsibility to seek forgiveness, and to right wrongs.  We know our treatment of people must always reflect an understanding of us all as made in the image of God (imago Deo), called by name, and truly the beloved.

How has the "Reconciling in Christ" movement been working towards remedying the visible rift between LGBT communities and faith-based communities?

The Reconciling in Christ movement is a movement among Lutheran churches, helping us grow in our understanding of being called to treat all people with love and respect.  The movement takes its name from 2 Corinthians 5:19: “…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”  In other words, God isn’t holding our wrong doing against us! (Good news – another word for Gospel).  We, therefore, are called to not only share this good news, but make sure we are not in our words or actions, keeping people from God’s loving embrace. The RIC movement helps with teaching, literature, and a place to take concerns.  They teach churches how to be sensitive to the issues that concern the LGBTQ community.

If you could, please describe an occasion that stands out in your mind as personally reaffirming of your work as the heads of a "Reconciling in Christ" congregation?

For me, it is always when someone comes to worship the first time, a little hesitant, a little unsure – is this place really going to be welcoming (not just accepting)?  When they find out that indeed, this is a place where they can be exactly what God has called them to be, the relief, and gratitude is almost palpable. And, when a person comes the first time to the Eucharist, the tears of joy that accompany that simple gracious act of extending God’s invitation to all, always makes me grateful that I am blessed to serve in ministry.

Patt, as the parent of an LGBT child, how has your contribution as a straight ally helped her deal with any LGBT-related difficulties she may have faced?

My daughter came out as a lesbian in her mid-twenties.  She and her sisters were raised in a house (as was I) where everyone was valued and accepted.  My daughters and I had a joke when they were growing up – they would always ask me and their dad, when they would be old enough to have sex. (The question was supposed to shock me, but they knew after awhile that it didn’t).  My response was always, “When you’re 35 years old, married (and I would always say, to a man or woman, I don’t judge) to a banker”.  When my daughter told me about her marrying Katie, I used the line in their wedding, and stated further, “well, two out of three isn’t bad!” (Katie is a physical trainer).

When Emily came out, I reminded her to be careful, and when she moved to Stamford, to let me check out the Lutheran church she was thinking of attending.  We aren’t all made the same!  Her family has continued to love and affirm her and her love for Katie.  Her work atmosphere is also supportive.

How important do you think straight allies are to LGBT persons? In the same vein, how important is faith?

Straight allies are vitally important to LGBT persons just as white people were who spoke out against racial discrimination.  The voice of someone who has nothing to gain from speaking out to the prejudice and hatred lends a powerful voice.  All people who speak out against discrimination of any kind are doing what God in Jesus calls us to do – to speak for those who have no voice, and to actively advocate for justice.  The faith community must be a part of this fight, just as it was for racial discrimination.  We end up not being the moral voice for change if we remain silent.  Then we wonder why our churches are empty!

Can you tell me a bit about some of the LGBT-themed services St. Peter's has provided (or will provide at some point in the future) for the public?

The last Sunday in January is our extended liturgy recognizing the wrong the church has inflicted on the people God loves, and to beg God’s forgiveness.  We will sponsor this year an adoption workshop for same sex couples, helping them through the unnecessarily complex rules and regulations.  Our Sunday school materials, and all teaching materials highlight all kinds of families, and all kinds of people.  Our restrooms are gender neutral.  The dinner dance will hopefully be a yearly event to raise funds for workshops on diversity, bullying, and training for the professional staff on counseling LGBTQ persons and families.  We have performed weddings, (several more upcoming), with couples joyful that they can celebrate in a faith tradition that invokes God’s blessings for them.  The ‘Love Makes A Family’ photo exhibit was a part of our outreach and attempt to continue to educate St. Peter’s and the surrounding community.

Now that DOMA has been overturned and LGBT couples have been allowed to legally marry in NY and CA, have you witnessed any immediate reactions from your congregation or been contacted by any couples hoping to avail themselves of this newly gained right?

The day that DOMA fell, I spoke with three couples ecstatic that they could now plan weddings.  I hope we attract more couples.  I believe that the more couples that are married here, and return to their home states, will help states realize what a disservice they are doing their citizens in not recognizing their marriages.  I believe the ACLU is working on having all marriages recognized no matter where they are solemnized, and that when this gets to the Supreme Court, this understanding of equality for all will be upheld.

Why and how did the decision to become a "Reconciling in Christ" church come about? And how vital do you think it's been to a small town like Port Jervis?

St. Peter’s was a church (in 2008) looking to revitalize, and to connect better to the community outside its doors.  We started with Bible study, and prayer, looking at how God is speaking to us, and how we could be more loving to our neighbors.  The presence of a very under -  served LGBTQ community was quite obvious; and when it became time to vote on whether or not to become a Reconciling community, there really wasn’t a vote.   Everyone agreed that this was what God was calling us to.  One family left; more than 30 have joined in the past few years.  All who come are seeking a welcoming, inclusive church.

Any other upcoming events or projects you'd like to mention?

Our biggest upcoming event is the dinner dance!  But we also hope that publicity of who we are and what we are doing brings even more people, hungry for the Word and the Meal.  My prayer is that people will travel from all over to a church where their intelligence is not insulted and their personhood is respected.

 

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