I want to start attending a church, but I’m LGBTQ+. Is there a church community out there for me?
There is! Sometimes it can feel like LGBTQ-welcoming churches are a non-existent pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the folks at Queer Grace can assure you that these churches exist, because we’re part of them!
It used to be that welcoming and affirming churches were few and far between, and in the late 1960s a church denomination called the Metropolitan Community Church was started, which was run and attended primarily by LGBTQ+ Christians. The MCC is still going strong today, and if you don’t have any specific denominational ties you might want to check them out!
Since the 1960s, though, many more churches have come to understand that the Gospel calls them to welcome and affirm the beloved nature of all people, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. Many churches today sport rainbow flags on their signs out front, or use words like “affirming” and “reconciling” signify their LGBTQ-friendly status.
Welcoming, affirming, open, reconciling—what do all these words mean?
There do seem to be a lot of terms, don’t there? But that’s good news, because it means more safe church homes for LGBTQ+ folks! As more and more communities have become accepting of different sexualities and gender identities, denominations have come up with their own ways of expressing this affirmation. LGBTQ-friendly communities in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Reformed Catholic Church, and the United Church of Christ refer to themselves as “open and affirming.” Communities in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada call themselves “reconciling in Christ.” The Presbyterian Church has “more light” congregations, and the Reformed Church in America specifies that their LGBTQ-friendly churches have “room for all.” And those are just the denominations that have official LGBTQ affirming organizations!
There are also some unofficial advocacy groups that can help you find a church in your denomination. You can check in with LGBTQ Catholics at Call to Action, New Ways Ministry, and Vine & Fig. You can find community with Reconciling Ministries Network if you’re part of the United Methodist Church. And if you’re a Baptist you’ll find connection in the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. For more information on other denominational groups, Wikipedia has a surprisingly good entry you can find here.
The main thing to be aware of when looking for an LGBTQ-friendly church is that some churches may use the phrase “welcoming” to mean that they welcome LGBTQ members, but that they have certain expectations, like celibacy.
How do I tell which churches accept ALL of me, and won’t require things like celibacy, conforming to a certain kind of gender expression, not transitioning, or staying quiet about my identity?
While it’s always a good idea to do a little digging around a church’s website to look for clues, the search has been made a lot easier recently with the advent of Church Clarity. Church Clarity scores churches to help understand where a community stands on LGBTQ+ inclusion and women’s leadership. They don’t rank churches on a scale that suggests non-affirming churches are bad; they just believe that “clarity is reasonable,” and people are entitled to know what a church’s policies on inclusion are before they invest in that community.
Most churches are scored as either “clear” or “unclear” about their inclusion policies, and from there you can break things down into churches that are “clear: affirming” and “clear: non-affirming.” If a church is scored as “clear: affirming,” that means that they fully include LGBTQ+ people in all sacraments, all parts of the church community, and all levels of church leadership.
A church can also be scored as “undisclosed,” meaning not enough information is available to figure out what the church’s policies for LGBTQ+ people and women might be, or as “actively discerning,” meaning that they’re in the process of evaluating and changing their beliefs and policies.
What if I don’t necessarily care about a church’s denomination? I just want to find a church close to me!
Thankfully there have been a couple of search pages created specifically to find LGBTQ-friendly churches by geography! Church Clarity, mentioned above, is one.
The second great resource is the Affirming Church Directory at GayChurch.org. The main page allows you to search for churches geographically by entering your address and a maximum search distance, allows you to filter by denomination, and works for churches in the United States and Canada. They also have a second page that lets you select a country code, and that will provide you with a list of all known LGBTQ-friendly churches in that particular country, if you’re outside of North America. It’s important to note that unlike Church Clarity, the entries at GayChurch.org aren’t reviewed by a team of trained volunteers, so there might be churches listed there that are good at appearing “welcoming,” but on a little digging might not be affirming.
The first one is Believe Out Loud’s “Find Your Community” page, which is specific to churches in the United States, but lets you select your state and zoom in on a map to find the nearest affirming congregation. It’s possible to filter by denomination, but it’s not necessary. Because Believe Out Loud uses denominational organizations to find affirming churches, their database might sometimes be a little behind – there might be a newly affirming church in your area that doesn’t show up!
What if I can’t get to a church? Is there another way to experience a service?
Sometimes it’s hard to make it to church. If you have mobility issues, or lack transportation, or just aren’t sure if you want to go by yourself the first time, you can now participate in services online through many church websites! One of the best ways to find an online service is to use either the Find Your Community or Affirming Church Directory pages above and pick a church in your denomination, visit their website, and see if they have streams available.
Here are a few examples of LGBTQ affirming churches with streaming services:
- Cornerstone Metropolitan — Mobile, AL — Metropolitan Community Church
- Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church – San Francisco – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- Glide Church – San Francisco – Nondenominational
- Living Stream Church of the Brethren – Wenatchee, WA – Church of the Brethren
- Madison Avenue Baptist Church – New York City – American Baptist Church
- Marble Collegiate Church – New York City – Reformed Church in America
- Metropolitan Community Church of San Diego – San Diego – Metropolitan Community Church
- New York Avenue Presbyterian Church – Washington DC – Presbyterian Church USA
- Queer Grace Community — Minneapolis, MN — Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- The Riverside Church – New York City – United Church of Christ AND American Baptist Church
- Victory Church – Stone Mountain, GA – Nondenominational
Other affirming churches with podcasts, audio, video, and posts of their sermons:
- All Souls Church — Washington DC — Unitarian
- Cathedral of Hope – Dallas, TX – United Church of Christ (Services in English and Spanish!)
- Covenant Community Church — Louisville, KY — Presbyterian Church USA
- Edgewood — Homewood, AL — Presbyterian Church USA
- Grace Lutheran Church — Minneapolis, MN — Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- Hamilton Mennonite Church – Ontario – Mennonite
- Highland Baptist — Louisville, KY — Baptist
- West Hills Friends – Portland, OR – Quaker
- Mount Olive Church (and videos) — Minneapolis, MN — Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- Mount Washington Church — Cincinnati, OH — Presbyterian Church USA
- Plymouth Congregational Church — Syracuse, NY — United Church of Christ
- Wall Street United Church — Ontario – Nondenominational
Kevin Garcia, “We Started the Church that We Needed” (2017)
Queer Theology, “How find a church that is safe for LGBTQ people“