Each month, the Session meets for various items of discussion and decision in the life of the church. As you know, it is the Session that makes almost all of the decisions in the life of the church, from small administrative ones to complex ones about the missional direction and priorities of the congregation.

To make sure that it does not get too bogged down in the smaller decisions, the Session not only has committees and task forces to do significant amounts of work, but it also reserves about an hour of its monthly meeting time for a “Mission Strategy Conversation,” focusing on bigger picture issues, questions, and concerns in the life of the congregation.

At its April meeting, that conversation focused on the question of expectations of values alignment with groups seeking to utilize our space for their own activities. Questions had been raised by the Trustees for guidance on how much alignment the Session feels is necessary. Do other groups have to think and believe the exact same way we do? Does it not matter what they believe, so long as the check doesn’t bounce?

Clearly, both of these extremes are undesirable, so how do we make decisions on such things? This was not merely a theoretical conversation, as several potential lessees in recent years were discovered late in negotiations to have philosophical commitments that were directly opposed to our Core Value of being expansively welcoming.

As the Session discussed the issue, there was unanimous agreement that while we should not and would not require other groups to hold all the same values we do (for example, we don’t need community basketball leagues to be Christ-centered!), it is a problem if the group holds values that are diametrically opposed to our own.

Sadly, the place this has come up the most is with faith-based organizations that hold anti-LGBTQ+ positions as part of their own core values. It was pointed out that such positions are not only exclusionary, but actively and inevitably cause lasting spiritual and emotional harm to LGBTQ+ people within the organizations.

This is particularly the case with young people when they are told that they, their family, or their friends must deny part of their basic humanity or incur the judgment of both God and the organization in question. The Session decided that we cannot faithfully allow our facilities to be used by others to afflict people with such harm.

So what will this look like? First, the Session added a sentence to our Core Value about being expansively welcoming, specifically noting that we affirm and celebrate the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life and leadership of the church, so that commitment is now explicit.

Second, the Session unanimously approved a policy that, as part of any lease agreement, outside organizations must be provided a copy of our Mission Statement and Core Values and confirm that their own mission and values do not conflict with ours. This allows generous room for diversity of thought; other groups are not required to share our faith, our faith tradition, or specific beliefs or practices. Rather, we simply ask that their mission and values do not stand in direct opposition to ours. 

One of the things I am most grateful for as pastor here is the wisdom, thoughtfulness, insight, and imagination that our elected leaders exercise consistently, on both the Session and Trustees. It is wonderful to be part of a congregation that encourages diversity of thought and commitment while refusing to fall into the trap of moral relativism.

If you have any questions about any of this, or ideas for potential partners in the community looking for space, I encourage you to speak to an Elder or to send an email to info@fpc-bethlehem.org, from which it will be forwarded to myself as Moderator of Session and Elder Jennifer Cole as Clerk of Session.

Grace and Peace,