"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ..." Matthew 25:35
This past weekend, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio celebrated twenty years of being a More Light Church -- a congregation where "everyone is invited into full membership and ministry regardless of sexual orientation." Mt. Auburn boldly proclaims that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are part of God's good creation.
But twenty years ago, not everyone was sure. It was 1991 when the people of Mt. Auburn decided to declare themselves an inclusive church. They announced to the world they would begin to practice the same radical hospitality that Jesus did. And while there was much joy, there were also a number of fears from some in the congregation.
"Would their church become a gay church -- one made up of only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at the exclusion of others?" and "Would their church become a single issue church -- one that focuses on inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender to the exclusion of other interests and activities?"
There were also fears of rejection from the broader church and world, some of which manifested in church court cases where Mt. Auburn had to repeatedly defend its hospitality and welcome.
In the end, no court case, no rejection and no fear could dissuade Mt. Auburn from practicing Jesus' love for all. After all, Scripture tells us, "There is no fear in love" (1 John 4:18).
Today, Mt. Auburn thrives! Members participate in justice concerns in Cincinnati such as support the St. George Food Pantry . They also support prison ministry and schools in Brazil and Tanzania. The inclusive policy statement of the church doesn't stop with LGBT people; it also proclaims that people are welcome regardless of "age, race, ethnic origin and worldly condition."
They built it and the people came. Young couples with children have joined Mt. Auburn because they want a church for their family that models Jesus' love. These parents know that, no matter who their children grow up to be, they will be loved in this church.
While many faithful Christians today are beginning to move in the direction of full inclusion, Mt. Auburn has been showing us the way to the future of the church, since the early 1990s. Today, as Christian churches around the country yearn to grow their congregations and to reach out with the message of love that Jesus taught, Mt. Auburn's experience is joyfully our guide.
Teens and young adults come to church at Mt. Auburn because they see a church that has let go of the hypocrisy of teaching love while shunning certain groups of people -- including their friends.
The radical hospitality of Mt. Auburn reflects a deep commitment to living the teachings of Jesus Christ and is the future for Christians everywhere. Whether in a mega-church, a house church, or a medium-sized congregation, congregations that affirm God's wide embrace are thriving
This is good news for us all. I trust you see why.
Michael Adee, Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians, also contributed to this piece. Michael was ordained by Mt. Auburn as their first openly gay Elder in 1993. Adee says, "Mt. Auburn loved me back to faith. I would not be in the Church, any church if not for Mt. Auburn."