How do you manage change in your congregation? What if a congregation has already taken many courageous steps and find themselves “justice tired”? Let’s hear about a change that one pastor and her congregation are walking through:
I serve a congregation with a long history of taking bold, often controversial social justice actions. We have been open and affirming to LBGT persons for more than 20 years.
A newer member of the congregation recently expressed surprise that our kind of congregation still labels its two restrooms “men” and “women.” In that conversation, some around the table seemed excited to create unisex restrooms, and some (otherwise very open) people said “no way.”
Have any of your churches addressed restroom re-labeling?
I look forward to your suggestions about introducing and processing changes at the frontier of being a more inclusive congregation.
Rev. Change Agent
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Our Matriarchs offer their ideas and suggestions:
Dear Agent of Change-
In my work as a seminary Director of Student Services, this question has most definitely been raised. Currently our main building has three women’s and three men’s bathrooms. Based on population and room usage, the decision has been made to repurpose one of the men’s bathrooms into a gender neutral space. A new sign will be put on the door. An announcement will be made by email to the community. Signage inside the bathroom will indicate that the door can be locked for privacy.
The administration discussed whether this should be an issue for public conversation. The consensus was to move forward and simply make the change. In the long run, I don’t think this is a big deal. We have LGBTQ students, staff, faculty and visitors. We also have parents with small children on campus. Now we will have a bathroom that anyone can use and the door can be locked for privacy. We will also have the traditional men’s and women’s rooms. To me, it’s a hospitality issue.
Dear Rev. Change Agent,
It is so encouraging to hear of churches that are stepping out in faith to change our limited way of thinking.
Our congregation has not had this conversation but your question opened the door to imagining how we could create a unisex bathroom.
We have two sets of male/female bathrooms in the church and one stand alone bathroom which is not marked. This single bathroom could be a perfect place to put up a sign saying “Unisex” on the bathroom.
I would want session ownership of the idea, so that they can explain the importance of such an act to anyone asking them.
Blessings on your forward moving steps!
Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
Memorial Presbyterian Church
Dear Change Agent,
I don’t know of any congregations who have had an open, fresh conversation about this issue. But I know many churches that have single/anybody can use them bathrooms. People could be more skittish about multiple stall bathrooms being unisex – or not. Context is everything. It sounds like your congregation might be open to something creative.
A Church for Starving Artists
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What do you say, dear reader? How have you managed a big change in your congregation? How do you know when the congregation is ready? And is there ever a time to go ahead anyway?
Please add your comments and suggestions in the comments below.
We love questions! Are you facing a ministry challenge or dealing with a big change? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.
The Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a native Texan, adopted Louisianan, and currently thriving in Nashville TN where she serves the Brookmeade Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ. She contributed an essay to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs at revmama.com.
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