Today I was served communion by a transwoman. When I got back to the pew I hung my head and wept with overwhelming joy.
Even for someone like me, who has become a visible ally of the LGBTQ community, this was a new experience. It also was a reminder that although the church is making some advances on inclusion, we’re making few advances on inclusive leadership.
I was one of a handful of allies participating in a small worship service sponsored by the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists held in Birmingham during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s general assembly. The service coincided with the CBF meeting but was held offsite and not in any way endorsed by CBF; but that’s another conversation for another day.
Here’s what else I witnessed in that hour of worship:
- A 91-year-old straight woman receive recognition for her ministry to the LGBTQ community beginning in the 1950s, when she was the only person standing at the graveside of a young gay man whose family disowned him.
- The powerful testimony of a young Baptist minister who told how his United Methodist pastor father was put on trial and defrocked for officiating his own son’s wedding to another man.
- Inclusive hymn texts that caused me to think hard and be challenged.
- A gay minister officiating over the communion table while lovingly holding his 3-year-old son in his arms.
- A joyful space where white, straight, cisgender males like me were the minority but welcomed fully.
But it was communion that undid me. To be presented the body of Christ by a transwoman – who, by the way, earlier in the service bravely read the assigned biblical text of the day about the Ethiopian eunuch – created a role reversal I had not anticipated. As a pastor, I am accustomed to being the one serving the elements. As an ally to LGBTQ persons, I am accustomed to being the one reaching out a hand to offer support.
“When someone intentionally made room for a transwoman to serve me communion, I was made better, not lesser.”
Today, I was the one who received. And in that moment, I was changed yet again.
We’ve got a long way to go toward full inclusion in the Christian church; remember that it was in this same city that the Southern Baptist Convention met the week before and declared that it is not possible to be a “gay Christian.” At least the inclusion conversation is happening. The leadership question, however, remains out of sight and out of mind for most churches.
There are a number of reasons this is so. Yes, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians need to be in church to be considered for leadership. There are more present and called than you might guess. And yes, most pastors and denominational leaders are afraid of offending the traditionalists in their midst. That is an excuse more than a reason.
Several weeks ago, I participated in a panel discussion about LGBTQ inclusion in the church where one of the other panelists said this: Until members of the LGBTQ community see people like themselves in church leadership – reading Scripture, leading prayers, serving communion, teaching Bible classes – they will remain less likely to participate fully in the life of the church. And then another panelist – a white, straight, cisgender male like me – rocked the boat more when he said this: Maybe I need to step aside to make room for other people to serve.
That last line has haunted me ever since. I don’t know what to do with it. He’s right, of course. If we truly want to increase diversity in church leadership, we must make space for diversity. But for now, just as a starting point, I do know this: When someone intentionally made room for a transwoman to serve me communion, I was made better, not lesser.