Joy Comes when a congregation stands united through a hopeful proclamation as Lovers Lane has through the years. Through that time, some people have come and gone; and people leaving the family can be painful. We must remember, however, where we have come from in order to know where we are going.
In 1945, our second year of existence, the first people to leave Lovers Lane left over a disagreement about “whether or not to allow alcoholics in the church.” For those dealing with alcohol addiction in the 1940s, the church was a welcoming place; today, 900 people come to our campus each week, working on recovery from alcohol and other addictions.
In 1960, there were those who left, even walked out of worship, when Ms. Bernice Jones, an African American woman, walked down the aisle to join our congregation. Today, on any given Sunday, more than 300 people from a dozen African nations call Lovers Lane “our family.”
In 1995, two gay fathers had their two daughters baptized, marked with the waters of God’s first love, and people left. These men remain members and their daughters are beautiful, wonderful, strong, young ladies whose experience of church was one of an accepting “family.”
Today we have several families with two dads or two moms, and baptism is celebrated for all. Our longstanding welcome of ALL people continues. People come and go, but our congregation stands united, and people come because of “who we are.”
As I have reminded you for the past six years, approximately 70 percent of our new members are coming by profession of faith through the same waters of baptism, which is a symbol not only of God’s unconditional love of ALL people, but the unifying mark we all have in common. Most often these new family members are younger, and many are refugees from conflict-ridden countries. Others are “church refugees” from congregations that never welcomed them, wouldn’t make a place for them, and in some cases, even told them to leave. The love and acceptance of this congregation has taught me much and is still teaching me that our mission, “Loving ALL people into relationship with Jesus Christ” must always be what unites us. “Loving All” is who we are.
As your pastor, I have never believed our identity and “who we are” needed to be determined by our involvement in a group. I have experienced these groups as primarily political expressions that function like caucuses within our denomination; i.e. Reconciling Ministries Network, Methodist Federation for Social Action on the “left,” and Wesleyan Covenant Association (and its other three verses — The Houston Declaration, Memphis Declaration, and Confessing Movement) bringing up the “right.”
I have friends who associate with these groups, and unfortunately it does not seem to make us more “united”; it often seems to instill the “us” and “them” mentality of a secular society and worldly, divisive, culture. I have always believed our strength, as United Methodists is not our sameness. This sometimes is frustrating to me because I want people to “believe like I do.” Our strong point is in our eclectic plurality regarding theology, culture, and what it means to live out our United Methodist mission, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
If who we are is dependent upon determining who is inside our circle of common believers, our homogeny, then we can never draw the circle small enough. If we say, these people are out today, and then other people will be out tomorrow. The masses of people on the outside, want nothing to do with the inside of a church, because they see us as hypocritical and far from “transforming the world.” The church must not be transformed by the world and its divisive, exclusive, ways. The world hungers for love, acceptance, joy and a deep-seeded happiness. Lovers Lane, may we always be known by our name “love,” our radical acceptance, and our striving to create a culture of joy in life-together.