Church has inclusive Communion, invites gay judge

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids church is working to change the relationship between churches and the LGBTQ community.

The First United Methodist Church on Fulton Street and Barclay Avenue hosted their fourth ever inclusive Communion service on Sunday night. This comes after Kent County Judge Sara Smolenski says she was denied Communion at her home church for being gay.

Smolenski says she’s been a parishioner at St. Stephen Catholic Church in East Grand Rapids for 62 years and this has never happened to her before. 

“Why exclude anyone when they have sincere desire to come to God’s table?” Smolenski asked.

In response, the congregation at FUMC reached out to Smolenski and her wife Linda, inviting them to be a part of an inclusive Communion service. 

The church says while they welcome everyone to their church during regular monthly Communion services, their message is more intentional during inclusive services.

“I am so full of gratitude that these ministers, their congregation, has reached out to open this up and do what Jesus would do,” Smolenski said. 

The service started with welcoming words, then moved on to prayer.  They say their church has a long history of embracing everyone and supporting social justice issues.

“We wanted to invite and sort of have a heart for every LGBT person that’s been harmed by the church,” Rev. Dr. Joan VanDessel said. “I’m a part of the (LGBTQ) community too, so for me, it’s knowing that experience of being harmed or not having access to the church. I think we wanted to reach out and be a different voice.”

Rev. Tim Tuthill stood next to VanDessel and said that’s what inclusion means to them.

“That everyone has value and meaning, and purpose and we should try to find ways to cultivate that in everyone,” Tuthill said.

Smolenski took Communion at the church altar while being surrounded by friends, neighbors and other believers she’d never met before. Smolenski says the kind invitation and service mean a lot to her and others who have been shunned by their church home for being who they are. 

“I speak my truth because God made me who I am and I’m not different. I’m just me,” she said. “It’s not about me and it’s not about the priest at my church. It’s really about saying Jesus wants everybody welcome at the table.”

Smolenski says while she’s not certain about her future at St. Stephen Catholic Church, she’s remaining positive. 

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