Standing outside our church on my birthday, several members and I read aloud the shared banner, “God loves YOU! NO Exceptions!”
“I am so happy and proud to see this at our church!” One member commented to me, asking about the process for our church to place a rainbow banner on our front lawn.
Story behind the banner
It was a longer story than I realized. There are roots going back before I came to Bethany. And in my time as pastor I have listened to our members and watched as our leadership rejoiced in growing diversity and inclusion.
But the banner really began at this year’s Council retreat. In February, the newly appointed church council gathered together for a morning of scripture, prayer, bonding, and visioning. We broke into two groups and spent some time talking about what we hoped to see at our church in the next five years. From financial stability to church growth, the list of ideas and dreams was substantial. And both groups talked about diversity.
My group had a conversation about wanting to welcome diverse groups of people to our church. We were unsure of how to reach out to those who often don’t feel welcome in churches. I had recently been asked by several other churches if we wanted to co-table with them at the annual Pride event. And I had been trying to find a good time to bring up the idea.
In our growing work of welcoming all and caring for all people, I have been particularly careful. I have a stake in this conversation, as I shared in my sermon “How Much God Has Done For Me”. When our church grows in its active welcome, particularly to those from the LGBTQ+ community, I wanted to be sure it came not just from me, but from our members.
And so as we came together as a larger group, we listed out all of our hopes for the next five years at our church. And as we got to conversations around growth and diversity, we talked about welcome. We talked about being a place where we don’t judge one another. Sharing our hopes to continue to be a place where we care for one another. And as a whole we wanted to be a place that was growing, vibrant, and where we really welcome all.
And as the question came up, “How can we let people know that we welcome them too?” I mentioned the local Pride event in June. And I explained that three other local churches were already planning a table together, and that we had been invited to join them. Our council wanted to include it as part of our goals around growth and diversity, and we began to move forward.
God loves YOU! NO Exceptions!
Listed in the “Council Goals” page of our newsletter, and as the event came closer having its own newsletter blurb, the pastors from the four churches began planning our table for Pride. We discussed a photo booth and offering glitter blessings. We talked about a banner for the table and began working on designs. And as we decided on the wording, “God loves YOU! NO Exceptions!” we agreed that it was a wonderful way to share God’s love with those who have felt excluded.
The event ended up being on a day where I couldn’t be there. And so one of our members offered to volunteer to be our representation at the event.
As May arrived, I saw our texts for worship on June 23rd. And I started to realize what the Holy Spirit was calling me to share in my sermon. Shortly after that realization, I began planning conversations with my bishop, our mutual ministry committee, and our church’s council. I was looking for feedback, for advice, for support, and thankfully I found it every step of the way.
During the first week of June, just a few days from my meeting with our Council, a few days from the Pride Event, the banner was brought up again with my colleagues. “There are four weeks in June and four churches on the banner. We’ve had it up at St. Stephens this week, maybe we could alternate having it at each of the churches throughout the month?” Fr. Nic said to the group. Everyone nodded and started looking at dates. I sat a bit frozen. All my worry about rejection, about being “too much too fast”, about everything came at me quickly. I stated that I’d have to check with my council and I would let them know.
Fear and Worry
Sharing my sermon plans with our council went well. And then our dear secretary reminded me to bring up the banner. So I brought up the banner and the conversation around having it up for a week. I named my own fears of it being too much, and our council nodded with me. But quickly members of council disagreed with my hesitancy, “The banner isn’t something new, we’ve been talking about God’s love and no exceptions, about welcoming all people and seeking diversity for a long time.” And so the conversation became around timing, and the council agreed having it up the second week of June would be best.
So on my birthday, June 9th, the day after United in Pride, as worship ended our council president and vice president went about setting up the banner. “God loves YOU! NO Exceptions!” I watched as members stopped to take pictures, asked questions of how this came to be, and teared up with joy and gratitude. One of our members who was tabling at the Pride event for the organization she works for kept telling me how she told everyone she met that her church was on that banner and how proud she was.
And in the week to follow, as I began preparing for a difficult Father’s Day grieving for both my own dad and my grandpa this year, as I continued to work on sharing my story, each day as I pulled into our church’s parking lot, God had a reminder for me. God loves YOU! NO Exceptions! A powerful and much needed message, one that I cannot hear or read enough.
What are ways that God has told you how loved you are? Who has God spoken through to you? What are ways that you might share with others that there are no exceptions from God’s love?