by Pastor Jennie Chrien (she/her/hers)

Does your church want to be more authentically welcoming? Have you felt called to respond to the historical marginalization of queer people in institutional Christianity? Are you not sure where to begin?

Here are four ways your congregation can extend a more authentic welcome to LGBTQIAP+ individuals:

Let Go of Assumptions

From color-coded gender reveal parties to “Mr. and Mrs.” products, we are trained to carry assumptions about gender and sexuality. The best first step to being more authentically welcoming is to let go of these assumptions. You cannot tell at a glance if a person is a man, a woman, or non-binary, and you cannot know what personal pronouns they use. You do not know if a pair of people walking in to worship are married, partnered, or just friends.

So let go of your assumptions. There is an easy way to know someone’s pronouns: you can ask. Try something like “Hi, what’s your name? And what pronouns should I use for you?” Or if their gender is not something you need to know to welcome them, then just welcome them!

Embrace Being Uncomfortable

Letting go of your assumptions can be uncomfortable. When you are used to filtering your experiences through frameworks like the gender binary, then the alternative may feel uncertain and chaotic. But discomfort does not mean danger. If you are washing your hands in a bathroom next to someone whose gender presentation is different from what you are used to, that is just fine (so long as both of you are using soap)!

Embrace being uncomfortable. Gender is deeply complicated and largely socially constructed. There is no correct way to be a “man” or a “woman” or both or neither. Families come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. If this feels like you are lost in a wilderness, then keep going. You are on your way to a promised land of liberation and joy.

Discover Joy

What I have discovered in every queer community I have been a part of is the profound sense of joy these spaces cultivate. The joy of gender euphoria, the joy of self-expression, the joy of being deeply and truly yourself, and of knowing that you are loved for who you are.

This joy is not just for queer folks—if you are a straight, cisgender man who would like to wear nail polish, you can! If you are a straight woman who wants to buzz her hair short, you are allowed! Self-expression should be a source of joy for all people. Let LGBTQIAP+ people teach you the joy of being yourself.

Declare the Good News

The whole purpose of the Christian church is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. In particular, here is some important good news you should be declaring: LGBTQIAP+ people are beloved and embraced by God, without limit or exception.

Trans people are beloved by God. Non-binary people are beloved by God. Gay and lesbian and bisexual people are beloved by God. Single people, and partnered people, and polyamorous people, are all beloved by God. Each one of us—in all our intersecting identities of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, and illness—is a beloved child of God.

Preach this, teach this, until it settles in your congregation’s bones. Until everyone in your congregation, and everyone in your neighborhood, and everyone in your world, has heard this good news. And then you will be ready to welcome God’s queerly beloved. God bless.

Jennie Chrien is a pastor in the Southwest California Synod (ELCA), currently serving as interim pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church and School in West Hills, California. Her passions include the Hebrew Bible, radical welcome, and playing Dungeons and Dragons (especially with other queer clergy).