Mount Calvary Lutheran Church of Erie, PA becomes first Reconciling In Christ Community in Erie County

From Cheryl LaBenne - member of Congregational Council   

The congregation of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church (located at 1603 W 32nd St. in Erie, PA.) voted on July 18, 2021 to become a Reconciling In Christ (RIC) community.  The vote was a culmination of a multiyear long journey involving training, education, and dialogue led by Pastor Kristen Papson, Congregational Council, and volunteers from congregation.

Our welcoming statement reads:

"In Christ's body, there is a place for you. We invite and welcome you to join us, no matter your social status, race, gender expression or identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic position, physical and mental abilities, or where you are in your faith journey.  We are committed to the work of racial equity, bringing justice for God's beloveds.  You are accepted and affirmed just as you are - with all your differences and all of your gifts - a unique child of God.  Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus".

Our journey started by reaching out to ReconcilingWorks, Lutherans For Full Participation, who has advocated for the full welcome, inclusion, and equity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual/aromantic Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church, congregation, and community since 1974. ReconcilingWorks has a vision to keep expanding the welcome, liberating those who are forced to live in to margins, to keep dismantling barriers and building bridges, and to keep working until all of God's beloved have equity.  Their core values are rooted in the belief that God values and embraces each person as a beloved child, that the Spirit gives a diversity of gifts for the common good, and that Jesus Christ calls us to work for justice.  Several Mount Calvary Congregational Council members attended Building an Inclusive Church (BIC) training that was designed to equip participants with ways to create dialogue and deepen relationships throughout their faith community while on their journey towards the public and intentional welcoming of people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.  As part of Mount Calvary's journey we also hosted a Building an Inclusive Church (BIC) training, which was attended by other members of our RIC committee, as well as participants from other faith communities in the tristate area.

Following our training, our RIC committee members (including Pastor Kristen Papson) began having a dialogue with church members via a process called "graceful engagement", as well as having LGBTQIA+ oriented topics via our monthly newsletter, during adult Sunday School, and during weekly sermons.  Committee members also drafted our Welcoming Statement, participated in Erie's Pride Parade in 2019, and the "Drive Your Pride" event held at Presque Isle in 2020.  Covid-19 restrictions and shutdowns slowed our progress but finally, on July 18, 2021 during our semi-annual Congregational meeting, we voted to formally adopt our Welcoming Statement and to be identified as an RIC community (now listed on the ReconcilingWorks website).  When we began our journey there was not an RIC community within 100 miles.  Since then, we have seen the formation of RIC communities in Buffalo NY, Cleveland OH, and as close as Wexford and Warren, PA.  We are proud and honored to be the first and only RIC community in Erie County and the City of Erie, PA.

As part of journey to becoming an RIC community we have made public commitments that we will:

  1. Explicitly state a welcome to LGBTQIA+ people and a commitment of racial equality in our Welcoming Statement.
  2. Be open to calling an LGBTQIA+ and Black, Brown, Indigenous, Person of Color Rostered Leader.
  3. Allow community space/sanctuary to be used for LGBTQIA+ weddings and blessings

Our RIC logo, designed by ReconcilingWorks, was inspired by the Progressive Pride Flag design, and includes rainbow colors, as well as blue, pink, and white to represent our transgender siblings, and black and brown to represent the fullness that the People of Color bring to the queer community.

We are happy to be led by Erie native Pastor Kristen Papson.  Pastor Kristen's Guest Opinion/letter (titled "Toomey Must Act to Secure Equal Rights for LGBTQ Americans") was featured in Erie Times News on 9/1/21.  She also participated in the 28th Annual Pride Picnic in 2021, as well as "Drive Your Pride" in 2020, and the Erie Pride Parade in 2019.

Mount Calvary Lutheran currently offers in person church service every Sunday at 9:30am.  We offer both inside and parking lot service options.  Parking lot worshippers remain in their vehicle and can hear service by tuning to designated radio station, and will have communion delivered to their vehicle.  We also stream Sunday service live on Facebook and post it on YouTube. You do not need to be Lutheran to attend.   Church office hours are Monday-Friday 9am-1pm and our phone number is 814-864-6831.  We invite to join us on Sundays for worship, and to stop by or call during office hours and meet Pastor Kristen and Jenna, who runs our front office. 

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