Synod offered LGBTQIA+ love, support and care when most needed

During the United Church of Christ’s 34th General Synod in Indianapolis, denominational leaders sought to create spaces where LGBTQIA+ members could feel the full embrace of God’s love and a commitment to their safety and dignity.

From intentional care spaces to an intersectional luncheon featuring drag performers, from a prayer walk protesting laws restricting bodily autonomy to Synod itself affirming the dignity of trans and nonbinary persons, advocates and allies worked to proclaim “love is louder,” as Rachael Ward has put it.

Ward is the team lead for the UCC’s Gender and Sexuality Justice Ministries and helped spearhead efforts to ensure the Synod experience for LGBTQIA+ attendees reflected the kind of love present in the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi.

“For queer folks, those of the LGBTQIA+ community, we know intimately the nature of being deemed an outsider like Ruth. We know the dips, turns and aches of false promises of support, love and care,” Ward said. “Throughout General Synod 34, our Gender and Sexuality Justice Ministries team offered an LGBTQIA+ Care Space and several affinity microprogramming opportunities within it.

“And, every single day of Synod, I saw Ruth’s bold, loud and definitive love on display in and outside of this space.”

Hand-drawn buttons at the Justice Maker table in the General Synod 34 exhibit hall reflected Ruth’s declaration to Naomi, “I’ll go with you.”

Ward also noted that they witnessed an affirmation of baptism for a trans sibling, spoke with a 13-year-old trans teen who said Synod was “the most life-saving they had experienced yet,” and hosted a “Loving Louder” mixer in partnership with the Open and Affirming Coalition that “felt like heaven on earth.”

Harm and apology

This Synod came amid seemingly constant news of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislative attacks nationwide — and direct encounters some attendees had with members of another Christian denomination, encounters which Ward said were harmful.

“The reality of our shared world is that queer people exist everywhere and so does the multiplicity of religious experiences,” Ward said. “During our final days of General Synod, we shared space with a different degree of religious experience. And queer folks were harmed during this time by verbal mistreatment and theology that, I know, is not of the God we cling to — that Ruth clung to.”

Other UCC leaders responded to these incidents in real time from the Synod stage.

“It has come to our attention that individuals among us have experienced harm and pain while here in Indianapolis, that words of hate have been wielded against our LGBTQIA+ siblings in the Convention Center,” incoming UCC Board chair Julia Gaughan said to General Synod during plenary July 4. “If one of us has been hurt, then all of us have been hurt, for we are one body.”

The people at Synod responded to this news with acts of solidarity.

“The church embodied Ruth’s embrace of ‘your people shall be my people,’ by wearing Love is Louder shirts — selling out the entire merchandise on our final Synod day,” Ward said. “The Church embodied Ruth’s promise — ‘I will not abandon you’ — by walking with LGBTQIA+ siblings anywhere they were going.”

Later that evening, UCC General Minister and President-elect the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson returned to stage to announce that leaders of the other denomination apologized.

“They are not only apologetic but have said that those are not actions that they condone as a denominational setting,” Thompson told Synod.

‘So much hope’

For Ward, Synod offered an opportunity to glimpse what is possible.

“In a moment where rhetoric against LGBTQIA+ siblings is becoming increasingly more violent, to be with community, dreaming and working toward a more just world, is a holy and needed balm of nourishment,” they said. “A balm that, I know intimately, is needed beyond our holy shared space of General Synod.”

Ward added that they “wept profusely” when leaving Synod, feeling that “there is so much hope for our future as a Church.”

They pointed to a recent Witness for Justice column by Associate General Minister the Rev. Traci Blackmon, “Practicing Love Together,” where Blackmon also reflected on the experience at Synod.

“I grieve the fear and painful memories evoked in LGBTIA+ siblings who deserved to simply delight themselves in what should be the safest place on earth, the Church,” she wrote. “But the Church is not safe for everyone and, in the spirit of Ubuntu, that means the Church is not safe for anyone.”

“To love out loud is to resist the idea of being afraid of who God created us to be and how God calls us to act in love, justice and mercy,” Ward said. “I, too, was deeply saddened and outraged at the reports of LGBTQIA+ siblings experiencing anything less than the wide-open arms of love. These shares and stories matter, too.

“And I continue to hold presence to listen and renew ways we offer care in the following Synods to come.”

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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