Friday, March 8, 2013

Campus religious group reaches out to LGBT community

by Taylor Lunka, News Writer
 
Pacific Lutheran University’s student congregation is open to everyone — regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender or religion.

University Congregation has always been this way, but it will soon be legitimized on paper by becoming a church that is part of a program called ReconcilingWorks.

ReconcilingWorks is a new movement Lutheran congregations are taking on that advocates the inclusion of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) Lutherans. One of its major programs is Reconciling in Christ (RIC).

According to http://www.reconcilingworks.org, RIC is a national program, which "recognizes Lutheran communities that publically welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender believers."

In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) affirmed that pastors could perform gay marriages in states where it is legal.

Since University Congregation is a member of ELCA, the University Congregation Council said they felt RIC was the next step for the congregation.

Junior Tommy Flanagan, missions coordinator of the University Congregational Council, attended a conference during fall semester in Olympia to learn about the RIC program.

Based on what he learned at the conference, he said he decided this needed to be implemented here at PLU.

"It’s the fact we are a liberal
arts school and have many faiths," Flanagan said.

To test the waters with the program, the university recently gave a survey to see how open the congregation would react to the RIC program.

Flanagan said the survey resulted in positive feedback.

"By the end of the year, we will be listed as an RIC church," Flanagan said.

University Congregation will have to go through the 14 steps it takes to become a RIC church.

These steps include everything from education opportunities to planning community events and positive conversations about the change.

Junior Lucas Kulhanek, campus ministry steward and co-commissioner for Queer-Ally Student Union (QASU), said this is a "really good thing being done."

Besides this being a "safe place for LGBTQ community," Kulhanek said, "I hope that this program really encourages students to feel like they are able to be more included into the community itself."

Kulhanek said he and his partner attend University Congregation regularly and "it’s been great. I love it."

He also said he wants students and faculty to know that they aren’t judged, and anyone is welcome.

Pastor Dennis Sepper agreed and wants students as well as faculty to feel included.

"Every individual is created by God and is to be valued," Sepper said.

Sepper said he is excited that University Congregation has "decided to make this a priority" and be listed as a RIC church.

University Congregation is held every Sunday at 11 a.m. in Lagerquist Concert Hall.