Open For Worship
When Luke Schlimme first moved to Richmond, his spiritual journey took him to GayChurch.org as he searched for a new house of worship. On the site, he found a listing of 16 local congregations self-identifying as gay friendly. When he visited several churches on the directory, he found not all were as open as the site led him to believe.
He connected with ROSMY last semester as an intern and took on a new project inspired by his own search. He sent out a letter to the pastor of each congregation listed on GayChurch.org in hopes of having conversations bridging the gap between sexuality and spiritually.
“The last thing I want to do is send the youth to a place that is supposed to be loving and caring and have them feel like outsiders,” he says.
After completing a year in seminary, Schlimme continues his duel-degree program pursuing a Masters of Social Work. He combines his academic and personal experience helping ROSMY build a curriculum to discuss spirituality with their youth. This starts with finding accepting places to worship.
“Being Christian and gay man myself, I’ve experienced the hardships you go through being a Christian and struggling with your sexuality,” Schlimme says.
He started his search at GayChurch.org. The churches listed on the website range in affiliation from Baptist to Quaker. Any church can be listed if they contact the site and identify as gay friendly.
“If they’re already saying ‘gay friendly,’ they need to step up and take this stance.” Schlimme says.
From the 16 congregations listed, he has met with nine.
According to Schlimme, there’s a spectrum regarding the openness of these congregations.
“There have been churches represented in the meeting that I have personally attended and did not feel comfortable in,” he says. “I’m very encouraged that these churches are coming to the meetings.”
“I think what happens is that you have a supportive pastor or elder in the church; however, there’s a difference between a supportive pastor and a supportive congregation.”
His goal is to work with the pastors to help the congregations become more open and welcoming. “There is at least something in them that wants this to take place,” he said. “It says a lot that there are [churches] that want to be,” he says.
Even though ROSMY’s mission is youth-focused, Schlimme believes if a pastor and congregation can get on board to provide safe havens, then the effects will trickle down. For that, he’s been going straight to the top.
“If we don’t have [pastors] on board, then it’s going to be harder to make these changes take place,” he said.
This month, Schlimme had a second meeting with six churches to educate on preferred language and the meaning of gay friendly. He discussed what it would look like if their congregations were gay friendly and had pastors write down steps to start creating more open environments.
These ideas included training for greeters to ensure they are being open and inclusive for everyone coming in; support groups for gay members; and talking to youth groups about language that might be derogatory. The meetings resume in February.
Since initiating this program, other churches have contacted ROSMY and Schlimme has received other potential contacts through word of mouth.
“I don’t want this to be just churches, but religious organizations as a whole,” he says.
Schlimme has also contacted synagogues.
“I want them to know that these conversations are taking place.”
His vision for this project is to create a directory identifying safe environments for LGBT people to attend worship.
“[My goal] is to be able to look at a youth and promise you will feel safe and accepted as you are,” Schlimme said.
“All churches and all religious organizations at some point have discriminated against this community, so this needs to be happening across the board,” Schlimme says. “In order for reconciliation to take place, this conversation between sexuality and spirituality needs to happen.”
“Times and culture have shifted and the organization has expanded over the course of 25 years toward building communities with LGBTQ+ youth, families, schools, and faith communities.”September 12, 2016
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