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Last evening, I attended a Town Hall Meeting, sponsored by the Raleigh LGBT Center. The purpose of the meeting was to assess interest and solicit input in plans to open an LGBT center in Durham. That is what I am calling it, for now, although it is possible that the name of the new center will be different.
The meeting was very well attended. I saw one estimate of 100 people present. The diversity of the attendees was striking. There were people of multiple racial and ethnic identities, there were college-age folks, and senior citizens. Virtually any standard demographic you can think of was represented there. I, personally, was thrilled to see several members and friends of Imani there as well.
We should be present wherever our community is gathered for good purposes.
Our presence at this meeting is precisely the kind of thing I’m encouraging when I urge us to “get out into the community” more. As a Metropolitan Community Church, we are part of the original “open and affirming” church. We should be present wherever our community is gathered for good purposes. When efforts are made to create safe space for youth who are figuring out who they are; or for seniors to escape isolation, make friends, and have fun; or for anyone to get free and confidential HIV testing; and for others to get referrals for appropriate services and care to meet their needs - the local MCC should be right there, participating in and supporting those efforts. This kind of social justice work is part of who we are as MCC. It should be part of who we are as Imani, as well.
It is my hope and prayer that Imani will join me in being a greater presence in our broader community. I think we miss the mark when we focus solely on how to get people to come to our church. That implies that our church is all we care about; that we are only interested in people who will come to us and help build us up. It is more consistent with our Christian witness for us to show up at community events outside of our church. Let’s show people that we care about them; that we care about the broader community; that we value being a part of the broader community.
I think we miss the importance of this, sometimes, because we forget that the laws and dynamics of the spiritual realm of things are often the opposite of how things work in the material realm. It’s called paradox. In the spiritual realm, we receive by giving. We gain by losing. We are blessed by being a blessing.
As I sat in that meeting last night, I was reminded, by the Spirit, of the many people in our community - probably some in that room - who would not even consider coming to Imani, or any other church, right now for excellent reasons. People who have been severely wounded, in churches, by condemning theology and exclusive policies and practices. I saw myself ministering to some of them in the soon-to-be LGBT center in Durham. I saw members of Imani volunteering at the new center and participating in the Affirming Faith Forum or whatever spiritual wellness and support programs will be offered there. I saw us doing this in response to the Great Commission to go out into the world and preach the gospel and make disciples.
Making face-to-face connections with prospective members is our best chance of turning them into active, supportive members and friends.
And here’s where the paradox kicks in: Efforts to attract new members and friends to come into Imani will be enhanced by our going out to where they are, not by waiting for them to come to us. Showing up at events like the Town Hall Meeting last night, and showing up when the Durham LGBT center is open, is a wonderful opportunity to put Imani’s name out into the community. Making face-to-face connections with prospective members is our best chance of turning them into active, supportive members and friends.
So let’s keep our eyes and ears open, Imani, for opportunities like last night, and do our best not to miss them.