“What’s it look like to be a More Light congregation?”
This is a question we are frequently asked by folks all over the country. Often, they are part of a congregation that’s discerning how they want their welcome to LGBTQIA+ people to look. Our response to this question is that, just like people, no two More Light congregations are the same. So, looking like a More Light church means a lot of different things!
Sometimes it’s a church in a rural area whose conversations around welcome are spurred by a lesbian couple asking their marriage to be blessed, or a youth coming out. As these congregations begin to dig into their welcome, discussions are framed by the faces of folks they’ve been worshipping with for years - the couple they’ve shared meals with, the youth baptized in the congregation as an infant.
Other More Light churches have been intentional about their welcome to the LGBTQIA+ community for years and just haven’t made the formal decision to become More Light. These congregations are troubled by the increasingly dehumanizing language about LGBTQIA+ people and the impact it has on their members whose identities are being legislated against, and feel called to make a statement about their welcome.
Whatever a community may look like, relationships are at the heart of what it means to be More Light.
Whether a congregation has been with us for 3 weeks or 30 years, becoming More Light equips communities with the tools they need to respond to the increasingly complex world in which we live. As conversations about gender expand beyond the binary of male/female, More Light offers a way to understand identity from a place of abundance. As the need for a more nuanced understanding of racism emerge, More Light strives to model an approach to understanding white supremacy that is intersectional and embodied. When people look for a way to put their faith into action, More Light offers tools to maintain a stance of abundance, even in the face of scarcity.
Wherever a community may be on their journey or in the world, our light continues to shine brightly. So far this year, we’ve seen more growth than ever before, with 32 new congregations and campus groups joining More Light thus far in 2019. That gives us over 250 More Light congregations and campus groups across the country!
We are thrilled that so many churches and campus groups are currently in discernment about becoming More Light and have people contact us on an increasingly regular basis to ask about the process. To make sure we’re reaching as many folks as possible to answer these questions, we are hosting a Becoming More Light webinar Wednesday, September 25 at 3pm ET / 2pm CT / 1pm MT / 12pm PT. The webinar, which will come at no cost to viewers, will be a simple Q&A format where folks have the opportunity to ask questions about the process of becoming More Light for those at varying stages of the discernment process.
Look for more details next week on how to register!
In August, we wrapped up the first phase of our pilot More Light Ambassador National Cohort! 30 Ambassadors journeyed through the program over six months!
We held monthly training and group conversation sessions, and participants scheduled one-on-one coaching sessions with Alex to implement the lessons learned. Each ambassador discerned where they were called to use their voice within their context. Some Ambassadors are in the process of planting new LGBTQIA+ inclusive worshipping communities, others explored how to further inclusion efforts in their campus ministry environments. A few Ambassadors were actively seeking a ministry call and found that claiming their role as an Ambassador increased what they could offer a new church. Many of our Ambassadors shared that the cohort experience increased their confidence as LGBTQIA+ advocates and allies. In fact, during our last official call of the pilot program, we decided to further the momentum we generated by continuing our monthly calls. In the coming month, we will be implementing the lessons we learned in the pilot cohort and relaunching the Ambassador training cohort soon!
Thank you to all those who participated in our Racial Justice Teach-In Series! We are currently in the process of editing the videos and creating discussion guides so this resource can be downloaded from the More Light shop. Look for an update in the next couple of weeks with more details!
We are consistently amazed by the ministry and witness of our More Light Churches. We are launching this new feature to share some of the stories of how More Light congregations continue to live out abundant inclusion in their congregations and communities!
New Covenant Community, Normal, IL.
Bob and Susan Ryder, Co-Pastors
New Covenant Community (aka NCC) is a unique place to worship. It was founded in 1992 by the PC(USA) campus minister at Illinois State University. They are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), UCC, and Disciples of Christ. One of the initial goals of this new church from the first time they gathered for worship was to be a welcoming and inclusive congregation.
The congregation is oriented towards progressive Christianity with an emphasis on Interfaith relations and social justice issues. New Covenant was among the first member congregations of ProgressiveChristianity.org (formerly the Center for Progressive Christianity), and has offered many lectureship series over the years, engaging speakers the likes of John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Matthew Fox, Sister Simone Campbell, and The Interfaith Amigos.
LGBTQIA+ folks have taken leadership positions in the congregation since it began, including serving on the Steering Committee, NCC’s equivalent of a Session, and Sunday School teaching. The current staff, Bob and Susan Ryder, have performed gay and lesbian weddings since 1999. New Covenant was the first publicly welcoming church in Bloomington/Normal, soon followed by the Unitarian Church. For 20+ years, they were the only two welcoming congregations in town, though they have fortunately been joined by a few more in recent years.
Last fall, Susan was part of the leadership for a public healing event in Bloomington/Normal with other area clergy. They read policy statements from denominations not supporting LGBTQIA+ folks (past and current) and apologized for those statements, seeking forgiveness. Clergy and other spiritual leaders sat at tables with those in attendance and encouraged sharing about how some have been harmed by the church for their policies. After acknowledging these wrong doings, they read statements of denominations who are now inclusive, and continued the table talk, encouraging healing and education. Susan was especially pleased to share the current PC(USA) policy on ordination and marriage, as it was an issue she and Bob have been fighting for since their own ordination.
NCC members are justice warriors in their community, not just for LGBTQIA+ people. In 2016, New Covenant partnered with another small congregation in the area to help sponsor a refugee family from the Congo. They were instrumental in moving the family to Bloomington, IL and have helped get the mother on her feet and able to support her two children, one of whom is severely disabled. Susan sees this as “caring for the least of these.”
Being located in a college town, the congregation is made up of a lot of retired and active teachers. In the past, some of these folks mentored students from a low-income neighborhood school, and the church donates to a scholarship fund for these students. They are also support the West Bloomington Revitalization Project, located in one of the financially challenged neighborhoods in town. Their mission is to empower residents to be leaders and achieve a vision for a better community. One of their projects that New Covenant supports is the “Bed Blitz” – where people are invited to donate money or time to build beds for children who have never had a bed of their own. And recently a member of the congregation went to the Texas/Mexico border to help asylum seekers. They hope to send more members, and are also supporting the program financially (Posade Providencia in Texas).
For several of the past summers, NCC hosts a group from Israel through “Friends Forever International” for a Sunday morning service. They also offer financial support. Friends Forever brings teens from countries experiencing conflict, such as Ireland and Israel. The group that comes to Bloomington brings 5 Jewish and 5 Arab teens (and 2 teachers) from two different high schools, students who would typically not associate with one another in their homelands, even if they live in the same town. They live together for two weeks while they are in Illinois, speaking at various community groups and doing service projects, returning to Israel to continue their relationships and work on bridge-building. The goal is that these students become peacemakers in their communities.
This mission statement of New Covenant Community is: “Our purpose is to continue in our time what Jesus began in his – working for the healing of our world as an inclusive, compassionate, joyful community.” This is a church that is living out its mission.
We are so encouraged by all of the ways the More Light community is shining in this critical moment. We are so honored to be part of this work with you!
In abundant hope,
Alex Patchin McNeill he/him Executive Director More Light Presbyterians