I loved church when I was a child. I loved sitting beside my grandfather on the plush red cushions under the intricate dark wood ceiling. I loved the hymns where the notes held the mystery of singing in harmony. How wonderful it was to sing different notes and still be singing together!
I loved singing alto. I struggled week after week to find its note and follow its line, loving the feel of making a chord. The sound we made was so much richer when we sang in harmony than when we did in unison.
This memory has come to mind as I watch our church continue to search for a way to sing in harmony around LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people, our families and our place in the church.
There are presbyteries and congregations that have figured it out and live together in harmony — Christians with differing views who come together to be the Body of Christ in the world. What have these churches figured out and how can we follow their example of grace?
Experience has taught me that harmony like this requires at least three things: forgiveness, mourning and kindness.
Many of us still want a unison song in our congregation. We want everyone to agree with us. We can get frustrated and angry when others do not see things our way. Also, our disagreements in the past have often gotten heated and contentious. Words have been said that have hurt.
Staying in harmony when we have these feelings calls for forgiveness: the grace of letting the past go in order to stay in loving friendship with those who may have hurt us. It is a necessary component of healing friendship in Christ.
There has been tension in our church around the place of LGBT people for a very long time. For some of us, a great deal of time and energy has gone into avoiding the discussion. We mourn the opportunity to find our harmony that was lost to that silence. Others were immersed in the church dissension and have endured deep pain that can lead to weeping. I have found that expressing our sadness — whatever its source may be — is often the release we need for a fresh start.
Perhaps I should have started with kindness, as it is the spiritual gift that undergirds all harmony among us. Kindness is what calms our fears of being hurt or hurting another. It builds our trust that we speak from, and to, that which is of God in each one of us.
When we are kind to one another then what might be dissonant strikes a chord instead. We need not sing the same notes in unanimous agreement; we can sing a lovely, strong harmony made so by the linkage of kindness.
I pray that my thoughts and the thoughts they have provoked in you help you find your way to harmony in your church home so that, truly, the peace of Christ may be with you all. And from that peace, we may all proclaim the Gospel by loving God and our neighbor together.
Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She was born and raised in Pittsburgh.