BANGOR, Maine — It is not enough for a congregation to say that it is welcoming or inclusive or affirming, Bishop Yvette Flunder told the 150 people Monday on the opening day of Bangor Theological Seminary’s Convocation at Husson University.
“You must offer them an extravagant welcome,” she said. “You cannot make the assumption that they know that that means them. You must name it — same-gender loving people, transgender people, whatever. Put your mission statement right in your bulletin so that when they open that bulletin they see themselves.”
Flunder, a third-generation minister, is the founder of City of Refuge Community Church, United Church of Christ. It is an inner-city ministry in San Francisco started in 1991 to unite a gospel and a social ministry.
She was one of five people scheduled to speak on the theme “World in Crisis — Communities in Faith” during the three-day meeting held at Gracie Theatre on the Husson campus.
The event was designed to honor the Rev. Sue Davies, the Rev. Kent Ulery, the seminary’s president, said earlier this month. Davies will retire in May after serving for many years as the Jonathan Fisher Professor of Christian Education. The program’s emphasis on social justice reflects much of her work, according to Ulery.
“These kind of gatherings remind us that the prophets still have something to say,” he said Monday morning. “The issues of peace and justice that we are talking about at convocation are central to our faith.”
Flunder said Monday that she is writing a book titled “In Mama’s Kitchen: A Theology of Extravagant Welcome.” She compared a church’s role in the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to the comfort she found as an adult in her mother’s kitchen.
“I knew I would be welcome there,” she said. “I knew that there would be no pretense, that she would love me completely. I knew that before I left, she would take my face in her hands and say, ‘I love you so much and I am so proud of you.’ We need our churches to do that.”
Flunder, whose ministry began at the height of the AIDS crisis in America, said that it was not enough for high-profile American ministers to go to countries such as South Africa — where the AIDS epidemic has affected more women than men — to get them to convert to Christianity, and then return to the U.S.
“We have to come up with solutions,” she said. “It’s not enough to just name the issue.”
Flunder said she has helped create a cooperative made up of former prostitutes in South Africa, who now are earning money selling rugs, clergy robes and textiles.
The global theme of this year’s event led the seminary to invite the Rev. Ofelia Ortega Suarez, a board member of the World Council of Churches. Late last week, however, it was unclear whether she would be able to attend.
“We put in the paperwork months ago, but by Thursday, she had not received her visa,” Ulery said Monday. “We called Sen. Susan Collins’ office and [Suarez] had the visa in time to fly out of Cuba on Saturday.”
Others on the program include: Marsha Foster Boyd, the president of Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, Mich.; Julio Medina, an ex-convict who runs a faith-based transition program in New York City for people about to be released from prison; percussionist Matt Meyer of Cambridge Mass.; and the Rev. Kate Braestrup, who serves as a community minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church and a chaplain of the Maine Warden Service.
For information about the convocation, call 942-6781 or 800-287-6781, or visit www.bts.edu/convocation.