Karen and I visit many different churches for worship. We were sitting in the sanctuary of one such church, preparing our hearts and minds for the worship of God. One of the pastors of the local church came to speak with a couple sitting in the pew directly behind us. The conversation went something like this;
pastor: I see the gay pride folks took your table in the narthex
Women's group president: I didn't notice
pastor: well, you have used that table for the last few weeks to register folks for your upcoming retreat. What are you going to do now?
women's group president: I don't know, I guess we could just stand out in the space after worship and hand out flyers.
pastor: anyway, good luck (she said with a smile) I am happy you are willing to make the best of it.
I was stunned. I don't think the pastor meant any harm with what she said in that brief exchange. I think the pastor has a good heart but good golly..... even a 5 year old knows that separate group territorial claims are not good for organizational unity. Even a child knows the power of sharing. We were taught that in kindergarten.
Different groups, in each local church, WILL clash about using the best space and classrooms to advance their favored causes in ministry. We do not need to create the church fight. Pastors and church leaders do not need to fuel the fire. "I see the gay pride folks took over YOUR table," is not helpful.
As local church leaders, we must think about what we say. We want the women's church group to feel our support. We want the women's group president to understand that her witness and ministry is important to us but the "you... them" message (or as we say it in Texas "ya'll.... them") will invite these two groups to go to war. The battlefield will become the narthex and the casualties will be reported to the ruling body of the local church. People attracted to your local church will be people who are familiar and comfortable with church fights. Yours will become (or continue to be) a dysfunctional community of faith.
One more thing...... In our home state they say "Don't mess with Texas." In every local church that I know the expression is "don't mess with the United Methodist Women." Bad business, tread lightly. What are the current church fights in your congregation?..... and please, spare me the claim that your local church behaves like one big, happy family. Church fights are everywhere. It is our job as leaders to stay out of the war. Focus on peace with justice concerns, not petty squabbles which turn into church fights.