A welcoming church is one that not only accepts everyone but celebrates who they are. No matter how inviting your website or welcome packet is, visitors are unlikely to return if they don't feel like they will be understood or fully embraced as part of the community. Members may also grow weary of trying to find a place where they fit if they do not see your church as a place where they are valued.
One way that leaders can facilitate this experience beyond mere statements and affirmations is to help people see themselves in the images of God that are portrayed. For many attendees, this means going beyond the traditional ways you talk about the divine. In many faith communities, God is often portrayed as male or masculine-presenting. Increasing your focus on the feminine presence of God, particularly as Mother's Day approaches, can start to bridge the gap that half of your congregants may be feeling.
Portraying God as a mighty warrior has likely been inspiring for many people. For others, however, life itself is enough of a battle. They need to see the kinder, gentler aspect of God that are often associated with femininity. Start by looking at all the ways that God nurtures:
- Loving people as they are
- Empathizing with pain
- Listening to understand
- Feeding both physically and spiritually
- Caring for the needs of others
If you are tasked with conducting part of the service, consider including at least one way that God nurtures every time you meet. These are important aspects of God's character that should be emulated and explored all year long, not just when it's nearing the culturally designated time for celebrating mothers. The more intentional you are about including all the traits of God as often as possible, the higher the probability that both visitors and members will find something to which they can relate.
Motherhood is hard work. While more dual-parenting households are learning to divide the work more evenly, mothers are often the primary caregivers. They provide both physical work and emotional labor while being bombarded with family and societal expectations. They create life and a home where it can flourish, and many do it without anyone noticing all the work that goes into it. Recognizing the immense amount of effort involved in everyday motherhood is not just the responsibility of their partners but also of their faith communities.
In Sue Monk Kidd's "The Book of Longings," Ana's aunt tells her, "I don't doubt you should give yourself to motherhood. I only question what it is you're meant to mother." Creation is not an experience that is limited to those who are rearing children. People of all genders and life experiences can participate in creative pursuits. Those who write stories and songs and those who birth new ministries can be encouraged by seeing their contributions as the work of God.
While many faiths accept the concept of a God who is beyond gender, that intention often gets lost in services, songs and literature where God is routinely called father or son by default. Challenge your leadership to find ways to use more inclusive language or to balance male and female metaphors. Many hymns can be adapted with relatively little effort by replacing gendered phrases. One adjustment to consider is using the singular "they" as a pronoun for God during sermons and liturgy. Many congregants may not notice, but trans members and their allies are likely to appreciate the change and feel more connected and nurtured.
Even churches that are steeped in traditions of maleness and masculine images of God can make strides toward exploring the motherhood of God. If your church is to be the welcoming home you long for it to be, these are important changes to make.