Welcome to Family Church
Andrew and Zac, a gay couple, decide one Sunday morning to go to church. Andrew loves music and persuades Zac to join him for some carol singing in the run-up to Christmas.
As they arrive, they are greeted at the front door. One of the ushers says to Andrew, “If you wanted to come to our carol service, that’s actually next week.”
“Well, if it’s ok, we’ll stay for the service today,” says Andrew.
“Sure, no problem,” says the usher and reaches across to his literature table. His hand pauses at the “Improving your marriage course” flyer but then moves quickly on to select two invites to the upcoming Alpha course as well as two service sheets, which he presents with a smile to each of Andrew and Zac and ushers them into the foyer.
As they move through, there seem to be lots of regulars standing around chatting over teas and coffees. After experiencing a mixture of stares and averted eyes, they let go of each other’s hands, as that’s clearly making people feel uncomfortable.
Once they’ve queued for a coffee, Andrew and Zac stand together sipping their drinks at the side of the room, getting a sense of the place. Other people seem to be enjoying catching up with their friends, and there’s a buzz about the place, with lots of children running around. At one point, they notice two teenage boys glancing sideways at them and sniggering. They wander over to the noticeboard on the wall that has pictures of the senior leaders: each of the leaders is shown happily surrounded by his wife and children. The nuclear family unit is clearly the norm at this church.
“Do you think we should go,” says Zac, as the whole experience is starting to confirm all his fears about coming to church. But then a man who they recognise from the noticeboard comes up to them and introduces himself as Tyler, one of the elders of the church. In a slightly hushed voice, he says to them, “My brother’s gay actually. We don’t get a lot of people like you coming here. Don’t worry too much about what the pastor says during his sermon – sometimes he can get a bit carried away with the old Bible-bashing!”
After a slightly uncomfortable silence, Andrew and Zac join the flow of people through to the main hall. Families with young children all seem to be at the front, and behind them is clearly where all the students sit. Most of the aisle seats have already gone – it’s almost like nobody wants to be trapped in the middle of a row! There are two seats at the end of one row still unclaimed, so Andrew and Zac slip into them, as they want to make sure they can leave if they don’t like the service. But almost as soon as they’ve sat down, an usher comes up to them and asks them to move into the middle of the row, “so that we can squeeze in all the latecomers!”
They enjoy most of the service. The worship band is really good, and the sermon isn’t half as bad as Tyler led them to expect. In the end, all the latecomers sit in the other rows. There was one family that started to sit down next to them, but they ended up moving two rows back. So, Andrew and Zac are able to leave straight away at the end of the service without talking to anyone.
They wait until they get to the end of the road and turn the corner before holding hands again. As they walk home thinking about the service, Andrew says to Zac, “Maybe if I do come back for the carols next week, I’d feel a bit more comfortable going there on my own. Would that be ok?”
I created this short script of an imaginary couple (Andrew and Zac) arriving at an imaginary church (Family Church). I wonder if you thought, “Sadly, this church doesn’t feel particularly imaginary!” Well, I tried not to make it too much of a caricature or too extreme. But I wanted to include a range of uncomfortable experiences that a single or LGBT person might pick up on as they attend a regular church service. Most of the awkward moments were unintentional. The purpose of the piece is to invite a church to reflect on how they can interact with people, particularly newcomers who are unchurched, in a way that makes them feel truly welcome.
If you wanted to challenge your church on this, you might read it out loud in your small group and invite comments on how Andrew and Zac may have felt, and what might the church improve. It’s helpful before you start to emphasise that the intention is not to condemn others, but rather to shine a light into each of our hearts, and help us to be more considerate and intentional in our welcome.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Spring 2020 edition of Ascend