Have you ever been in a meeting where you felt out of place? Years ago, I was invited to attend church with a black friend. I was excited to see what it was like. I didn't realize that I would be the only white person in a group of about 300. Everyone was friendly but I still felt that I didn't belong.
Now, imagine that you are a gay person attending a meeting at a conservative church. Even though this is the familiar faith tradition in which you were raised, you still feel out of place. If you have family and friends to sit with you, then that lessens your discomfort. But, suppose this is an unfamiliar church. How much courage would it take to walk in and sit down alone?
Last year, my family walked in the Gay Pride Parade with Mormons Building Bridges. We don't have a gay family member or friends who are gay, but we want to support those in our community who are lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual. Most of all, we want to end the all-too-frequent and heartbreaking LGBT suicides.
Getting to know lesbians and gays, I have come to love them. I admire their courage. I discovered to my surprise that many would like to attend church, at least on occasion. I was surprised because I have seen the cruel treatment many have suffered. It seems like the last thing they would want to do. And, for some, it is.
I was helping an older lesbian at a local senior center when I discovered the tender feelings she still has for the LDS Church. I thought about what I could do to help.
So, last October, I took a chance and set up an event on Facebook called Sit With Me Sunday. The plan was to match up LGBT people with others in their ward or church who would give them a warm welcome to the Christmas meeting. What better day to show love for your fellow man than Christmas?
About 250 people signed up and stated which church they attended. At first, I thought that straight people could invite the LGBT members of their church to sit with them. It turns out that few straight people know anyone in their neighborhood who fits that category.
So, I changed it a little and said, "Just tell us which ward you attend if you are willing to welcome an LGBT person to sit with you." The response warmed my heart. Many said such things as, "Come to the ... ward if you don't mind my four little ones." Or, "Please come sit with us and stay to dinner." Some larger groups signed up together.
A few took their picture in front of their local church and posted it on Facebook. I got one picture from a denomination other than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is not an LDS-specific idea and could be adapted to other settings.
Do you want to help stop the suicides that are the result of not seeing and not caring for people who are just a little different from you? Would you be willing to give such a person a warm welcome to church? Can you share a bench and maybe a song book with a neighbor?
If so, please out yourself. Sign up for the Sit With Me Sunday event for this Easter, March 31. Stop hiding your true feelings and admit that you love your fellowman or woman. Please reach across the aisle with the warm hand of fellowship. Let us no more be strangers.
Sherri Park is on the Steering Committee of Mormons Building Bridges. She lives in West Jordan.