Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville wants to make sure everyone feels welcome in its congregation — especially members of the LGBT community.
That’s why they are embarking on a program called Love Opens Doors. The series of six learning opportunities is aimed at creating a dialogue on the intentional inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members in the church. Love Opens Doors is coordinated by Pastors Don Niswonger and his wife, Carol Findon, and led by members of the clergy from outside the Grace community.
Niswonger said the program was inspired by the church’s Lead with Love group, comprised of about 30 members of the congregation who have family members who are part of the LGBT community. The group has been exploring the fact that Grace hasn’t made an intentional movement toward welcoming the LGBT community.
“We have a statement saying that all are welcome, but that doesn’t have much depth. It hasn’t been strong enough,” he said.
The program was developed he added, “Because we became conscious of families who were suffering because their family members didn’t feel welcome. There was fear of rejection.”
Niswonger said that people feel comfortable talking to him because he is the father of a gay son who died of AIDS.
“We have a strong contingency in the church that is welcoming, but there are also voices of opposition. Families come to me with their hurt,” he said. “Carol and I are known for being safe and approachable.”
Love Opens Doors was developed to encourage “graceful engagement,” Findon said. “There will be no debate. We want to explore issues about opening the church more to welcome human beings who are part of the LGBT community.”
This will be done with “honest communication and no judgment,” Niswonger said.
Each of six sessions will be led by experts who have helped congregations through the process of becoming welcoming and reconciling. Niswonger said that, during the first session, a covenant for discussion will be developed that will set the ground rules for how subsequent sessions will be conducted.
“We’ll read this each time we meet to remind ourselves about this endeavor,” he said. “(Going forward), we will examine what we believe, examine what we’ve been taught and take into account the evolution of knowledge.”
“This will be a vehicle through which we can have dialogue and growth in our evolving faith so that we can continue to explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.”
Individuals from outside of the Grace United Methodist Church community are welcome to participate in Love Opens Doors.