Now, understand, after our decisions to change our affiliation a year ago from ELCA to LCMC, I am sick to death of being misunderstood. So when this woman came in with misinformation, ready to be quite offended, I was ready to be tired. Patient, kind, but tired.
So I was thrilled when she genuinely wanted to know the answers to her questions. She informed me that she's heard from people in the community -- mostly people who formerly attended Central but have now moved to other churches -- that Central prohibits gays, that we are closed-minded, that we are hateful and we exclude anyone who doesn't fit into our narrow view. She wanted to know, what's this church's position? So (imagine this!) she came to the church to ask.
Now things get even better. Turns out she's been part of our Wednesday morning food distribution, where people are welcomed to Central to enjoy breakfast and then we have free distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables and occasionally other things (this morning there were some clothes available on one of the tables as well). She's volunteered for some time with this ministry, helping people get resources to make their nutrition and their lives better. Part of the reason she was troubled about what she heard in the community was that she also heard people had stopped coming to this food distribution ministry because of Central's exclusive stance.
Not only does she volunteer with the food distribution ministry, but she's attended worship at Central for a couple weeks now, trying to find answers to her questions. She's come here looking for the truth, examining Central's actions and attitudes for herself.
Her perception? She told me, "It's weird -- I hear all these things out in the community from people who talk about Central as a hateful, exclusive place. But when I come here, I see that this church is doing more to welcome all kinds of people in than any other church I know of. Why do they say these things about Central? I don't see it."
So we talked about the ELCA's vote in August 2009, and Central's choice after that to change our affiliation. I tried hard to explain things fairly, without using any kind of language that might bias her. I did not talk about my opinion that the ELCA's decision contradicts scripture. I didn't bring the Bible into the conversation up to this point at all. But her first comment was, "So your church just wanted to do what the Bible says." I said yes, that's our desire. That's our goal.
"This is why I don't believe gossip," she said. "People usually just spew their own hurt, and so much of the time they don't know what they're talking about."