My trip to Portland started Monday afternoon with a flight to Chicago, then on to the west coast. I wasn’t looking forward to the 4.5 hour flight and plane traffic, lousy weather and a slight mechanical issue in Chicago meant we were on the plane together for even longer.
As we boarded we were three strangers. But about half-way across Montana we had gotten to know each other, Sarah, Stephen, and myself. After during the usual pleasantries and small talk I explained why I was going to Portland (they were appropriately jealous) and I asked if I could do some market research. They agreed.
I knew they were our target market: married, both with families of young kids. They seemed clean cut and nice people. We had talked about how they are involved in the community and want to raise their kids to be good for the planet.
So I threw out the first question, and they both indicated that they did not go to church, but that they had done so as kids. Sarah had been raised in a nuclear family and attended a United Methodist Church as a child. Her parents are still members and she has a fondness for the denomination. Stephen was raised Baptist and his knowledge of the Bible and Christian traditions would have made his Sunday School teacher happy.
I talked with them about the gender issues we will be considering for the next ten days. Sarah and her husband are both artists: she a painter and he a sculptor. Their friendship circle has many gay friends in it, and if she were to consider going to church she would expect those friends to be as welcome as she and her nuclear family would be.
Stephen’s circle reminded me of Noah’s Ark, at least two of about anyone you could imagine, including homosexuals, folks who identify as transgender, racial and ethnic diversity. He said he refuses to categorize people based on any of this criteria. He says either they’re good people or they’re not. If they are, the rest doesn’t matter.
As we talked more I realized that my parents’ generation saw the world neatly categorized into boxes: Male or female, white or minorities, rich or poor, white collar or blue.
For Sarah and Stephen all of the boxes have become blurred. They would expect that their church, or really any institution, would welcome people without approving or disapproving of them based on those boxes.
We say that we want to be relevant to the Sarahs and Stephens in our community. I think to do that we will need to start erasing boxes and start welcoming.
I hope in the next ten days we can start our church in a direction that would make them and their friends see us as a place of relevance.