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PC(USA) churches in New York provide a genuine welcome to all God’s children

 

Transgender ministries are transforming churches

February 19, 2023

A church in Hudson River Presbytery recently welcomed Mother Grace Wilgefortis Ferris, center, to preach at a pride service. (Photo courtesy of Susan DeGeorge)

“Welcoming all in the name of Christ” might be easy to write into a church’s mission statement, but the challenge comes when faced with living it out and extending a hand to those in the transgender community. An inclusive, loving welcome is possible, though, with education and courage to open up those sanctuary doors.

People were being persecuted for their beliefs. They had to dodge rocks and shield themselves from spit being hurled in their direction. No, this is not a reference to a biblical story that occurred 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. This happened in 2020 in a small, suburban area in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where the hatred was aimed at middle school youth who are transgender.

As word spread around the Auburn, New York, community about the bullying, leaders at Westminster Presbyterian Church started conversations about needing to provide a space for these teens. The church, which held its first pride service a year earlier, knew it had to step up to meet this demand in the community.

“The need for something was so much greater than we thought it was,” said Chris Patch, the youth and children ministries coordinator at Westminster Church. “There was really nothing here for these youth. There was no real safe place for them to gather.”

What came out of the talks was the Pride House, a space in Westminster Church dedicated to LGBTQIA+ youth ages 13–18 and their allies where they can come together, enjoy each other’s company and create a bond between one another.

“I visited another facility, and after my conversation there they expressed to me that if we want to get these kids to keep coming, you have to build trust and a relationship first,” explained Patch, who doubles as the director of the Pride House. “You’re not going to get that by having another class of some kind.”

One day a week, the Pride House has an informal, drop-in format. The space has rooms equipped with a television, video games and art supplies, and the teens can stop in anytime they want during the three-hour window the Pride House is open. Pizza and snacks are also available at this hangout in the education wing of the church that brings on average 10–15 youth through the door.

“There’s a lot of relationships that are developed there,” said Patch. “We have kids from different surrounding areas that have all grown together now.”

Pride House is working well because it is a concept that is driven by youth.

“What we’ve done is that we have really looked at this and had a lot of it be youth-driven. ‘What do you need?’ Instead of trying to give them what we think they need, we really engaged with them and said, ‘What do you think you need? What’s the next step?’” said Patch.

While located in a church, the Pride House is not pushing religion. While several of the LGBTQIA+ youth have started to become involved in the life of the church in programs like the annual pride service, this sort of participation is not expected.

“We’re not trying to say this is a church function. We’re not trying to get them to go to church,” said Patch. “That was an important part for this ministry because a lot of these youth have come from varied backgrounds and have had a lot of religious trauma. A lot of them have been to churches where they have been persecuted, told that they’re sinning, told they’re not good enough. Now what they see is a church giving this care to them but without expecting anything back.”

What is surprising, though, is that now a lot of the youth in the group have started asking questions about the church, which was something Patch and others from the church hadn’t intended on.

“What the teens are seeing is how the church has supported them and how we work through God. They’re starting to have questions and take more of an active role in the church,” he added.

Mike Givler is the communications coordinator for the Synod of the Trinity.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, February 19, 2023, the Transfiguration of the Lord (Year A)

Today’s Focus: Transgender ministries are transforming churches

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Alejandra “Alex” Sherman, Executive Assistant, President’s Office, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Effie Shipp, Assistant, Credit Operations, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program

Let us pray

Dear Lord, help us to keep the goal in mind so that we may tell the good news of Christ each day, wherever we are and I whatever we do, and keep growing in faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


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