During the course of 2011, I’ve been taking my church (Lilydale Baps) through a series on the “Practices of Faith”. Traditionally Baptist churches have been really strong on doctrine, but not so hot on putting that doctrine into practice. Slowly but surely we’ve been trying to rediscover ways that different people and different traditions have practised their faith through history.
We’ve looked at the classical spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation, fasting, simplicity and the like. We’ve looked at the sacraments of baptism and communion. We’ve also looked at social justice, care of the environment and and serving each other. Yesterday we took a deep breath and looked at sexuality as a practice of faith.
As a bit of background, I’ve been the senior pastor at this church for just on two years now. They’ve known about my interaction with the LGBT community and I’ve raised it from time to time in different settings, but never tackled it head on. I was waiting until the church got to know me and my heart to the point where they would trust me to take them on a journey where they have feared to tread in the past.
So yesterday, Keith Dyer from Whitley College came and shared in the morning service about Biblical perspectives on sexuality. He spoke on 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 and did a brilliant job of describing the cultural setting in which Paul was speaking and encouraged us to interpret the meaning on that passage in it’s context before applying it to our time. But to take things deeper, I invited Keith to a BYO lunch after the service where I shared a bit of my own story and we then opened things up for the folk in attendance to ask whatever they wanted.
There were about 300 or so at the service in the morning and maybe 50 that stayed back for the lunch afterwards. I laid down the rules at the start of the lunch session and stated clearly that I would not tolerate the perpetuation of any stereotypes, gay bashing or christian bashing. This was to be a session to ask honest questions in an environment of respect.
Over the next two and a half hours, Keith and I answered lots of questions ranging from verses in the Bible, to raising children, to the high suicide rates in the LGBT community, to gay marriage and even sex in elevators (you had to be there…). A couple of our LGBT friends shared some of their own story too which helped shed new light on the issues at hand.
My aim was not to convince anybody of anything, but to simply allow an open forum for people with different opinions to explore a real issue in an atmosphere of mutual respect. In a semi rural (and some would say semi redneck) context, talking about sexuality, and particularly homosexuality, was potential recipe for disaster! However it turned out to be one of the better experiences in church ministry that I have had.
I wondered whether I would still have a job today (Monday), but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Yes, we didn’t agree on everything, but rarely had we ever spoken so honestly and openly with each other. Many have requested a follow up session to explore the topic further. Many have also asked to do the same thing with other hot topics as well.
This is something to celebrate! A number from the forums and the Melbourne chapter of F2B have visited LBC over the last two years, and I think some of the regulars at the church haven’t quite known what to do or how to react. But after yesterday, I think the “fear factor” has been removed and we’ll be able to take a few more steps on the journey. There’s still a way to go, but I think we’re heading in the right direction!
I wouldn’t mind hearing the thoughts of those F2B’s that were there on how you thought it went, as well as some ways that it could be done better next time around. Post your feedback here so we can learn from each other!
Hope all is well!