On becoming a beacon of safety
When it comes to serving as a safe space for church members, churches in the Oklahoma conference are in it with their whole hearts.
Rev. Roger Parker, Conference Connections lead pastor, made 40 spaces available for a training on being a Lighthouse Congregation. Within a day, the 40 spaces were filled, and more have been requested. Congregations are keen to provide a warm welcome to members who might need a new church home with coming disaffiliations.
When a church votes to disaffiliate from the denomination, there is always a dissenting voice. Those who wish to stay with the UMC have a difficult decision to make. Do they continue to attend the physical church that may be incompatible with their beliefs, or do they find a new place to worship?
For members who wish to stay with the denomination after their church disaffiliates, it can be difficult to find a place to go. What if the new church is also considering leaving?
Parker, in consultation with the group Committed to the UMC, began a new offering called Lighthouse Congregations. These are churches that plan to stay with the denomination, avoiding further pain for congregants who are hurting when they’ve lost their church.
Lighthouse congregations come together as a group to pass a resolution pledging to be a welcoming, loving, and nurturing community for people whose churches have closed or disaffiliated.
Churches attend an online training with Parker, then register as a lighthouse church. Members who find themselves without a church will find understanding and unconditional love in lighthouse congregations.
Instead of trying to get lighthouse visitors plugged in as volunteers and moving along, Parker says it’s important for congregations to be intentional about their interactions with them. “The best thing to do is to listen to them and be receptive,” said Parker. “They don’t need to try to solve anything, but just listen, listen, listen.” He also said churches should offer groups a Sunday school room and some space to meet before other members try to integrate them.
Parker said, “We’re not trying to get people to forget the past, but to change their relationship with it.”
Churches interested in becoming a lighthouse congregation can check the website or reach out to Roger Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.