Bethel Frequently Asked Questions
about becoming a
Reconciling in Christ Congregation
What does it mean to be a Reconciling in Christ Congregation?
At a practical level, an RIC congregation is one that offers a specific statement of welcome to LGBTQ+ neighbors and joins many other Minnesota congregations on an RIC roster available to those searching for a church home. But the rewards of this journey go beyond the practical; becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation means lifting up one of the things we do best at Bethel—welcome—and figuring out how we can do that even better. It also means building stronger relationships within our own congregation through meaningful conversation, prayer, and education.
Why are we doing this now here at Bethel?
The results of a recent congregational survey conducted by our Bethel Church Council expressed a deep desire on the part of Bethelites to continue our commitment to be a place of welcome—especially to those who are currently marginalized, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community. So many of you recognize that this is central to God’s call and Jesus’ work. We also recognize that issues of inclusion matter deeply to the millennial generation; as more and more young people leave the church, many do so because they do not know faith communities as a place of beloved community and open welcome. Becoming an RIC congregation allows us to more explicitly show people who we already are.
All people are welcome at Bethel! Why should we single out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people?
Many LGBTQ people have learned by experience that they are not welcome in faith communities, even in those that state, “All are welcome here!” Even members of Bethel have experienced this lack of welcome in other faith communities and sometimes fear being open about their identity here at Bethel for fear of similar admonishments. For LQBTQ people, general statements of welcome are often heard as meaning “everybody but me,” so it can take a special effort to communicate an authentic welcome to LGBTQ people. Many RIC communities find that the process of extending a welcome to LGBTQ people opens them up to other people or groups who also need a particular invitation to know that “all” includes them as well.
Didn’t the Synod’s statement approving gay marriage for clergy, etc., cover this?
No. While the ELCA offered its blessing as a governing body they left the choice of actually performing LGBTQ+ marriage ceremonies at the discretion of individual pastors and congregations. More importantly, the ELCA did not and cannot actually create spaces of welcome. That’s up to us!
So does becoming RIC mean LGBTQ+ marriages will be performed at Bethel? Does it mean that we’re open to calling an LGBTQ+ pastor? Will we be changing our education program?
Fantastic questions! All of these are up to us to decide. Reconciling Works, an organization that supports Lutheran congregations through this process, does not dictate specific choices. As a congregation we will have to decide what welcoming members of our LGBTQ+ family will look like for us.
What assurance will be provided that all voices are heard?
A huge part of this process is the opportunity we have to become closer as a congregation. To that end, we’ll try to provide lots of meaningful ways to connect and reflect. From brief surveys to one-on-one conversations, from Bible Studies to Banner announcements, we will try to provide abundant times and spaces to engage. We also hope that Bethelites will approach the Core Team with ideas for how to make this journey even more inclusive of everyone.
What is the timeline for making a decision?
Starting in the fall of 2019, the Core Team began reaching out to Bethelites, both to explain the RIC process and to begin engaging in meaningful conversations. In the spring of 2020, we offered educational opportunities: Bible study, speakers, life-storytelling, and info sessions answering FAQ about what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, non-binary, etc. Over the summer, we will begin offering resources virtually and we will begin drafting a welcome statement that will be shared with both the council and the congregation. In the fall, we hope to conduct a final survey in which we ask Bethelites whether they’re ready to adopt the welcoming statement and in so doing to become an RIC congregation. The results of this survey will then be passed onto the council and they will make a final decision. We all want to make sure that we only enter into becoming an RIC congregation if we can do so from a place of affirmation and joy.
What happens after we approve becoming a RIC church? How do we put this into action so it doesn’t become a feel-good statement, but nothing is different?
This is incredibly important. As we move toward writing a welcoming statement, it’s very likely that other ideas will emerge about how we can proclaim welcome. We will keep track of these, of course, and find people committed to implementing them in the future, making sure each step feels both appropriate and embraced.
Which other congregations in Northfield are RIC churches?
The St. Olaf Congregation joined the RIC roster back in 1989. St. John’s went through this process more recently. We have been and will continue to be in conversation with congregational leaders from St. John’s to see how we might learn from their experience.
How would becoming a RIC congregation affect life at Bethel? Will I be expected to do anything different from what I’m doing now? How will things change?
Becoming RIC isn’t about changing. This process is about uplifting who we already are and making what we already do visible to the people currently outside our church who might need to feel and hear God’s love the most.
Why is it called Reconciling in Christ?
That’s a great question. In this case, reconciling is about “restoring relationships” and “causing to coexist in harmony.” Because becoming an inclusive community is a journey and not a destination, the verb is used in present progressive, rather than past tense.
This sounds exciting! How can I get involved?
We’re so glad you asked! Here are some ways to get involved:
I have questions/suggestions/comments. To whom can I direct them and how should I do so?
All members of the Core Team would welcome a conversation. Pastor Tim is also available for conversation. All of us can also be reached by simply calling the church office.