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Sunday morning I attended worship with Joas at the church he pastors. He is Presbyterian, and is appointed to ministry both at his local church, as well as to the seminary. Teaching at the seminary is his primary job, but he preaches monthly at his church and is usually invited to preach elsewhere on his “off” Sundays.

This church has four services on Sunday: 6:00am, 10:00am, 12:00pm, and 5:00pm. In one weekend, their combined worship attendance is around 4000. We attended the 10:00am service, which is their largest.

Joas invited me to give the blessing and sending forth at the end of the service, which was an honor to do (that’s me in the pulpit in the cover photo).

Though the service was in Indonesian, I was able to mostly follow along. I actually had to laugh a couple times at the similarities I saw:

First, there was the greeting. I didn’t have to speak Indonesian to know that the lay person said, “Good morning!” And then, upon receiving a less-than enthusiastic reply from the congregation, made a joke about their low energy and repeated, “Good morning!” This time receiving a much better response back, along with a few chuckles.

He then began delivering the announcements. I could tell this is what was happening because of the amount of time they took up during service, and the tone in which he was delivering them. Joas confirmed my suspicions, and asked me whether we too have our announcements at the beginning of worship. I said it depends – that we’re still trying to figure out the best place for them so people will actually pay attention.

After announcements, the speaker invited all first time visitors to stand. Joas had to translate that one for me; and had to encourage me to actually stand. When I did, several people nearby rushed forward to shake my hand and greet me. An usher also came forward, handing me a form to fill out with my information so that they could contact me later.

This also made me laugh because at Grace, we’ve been trying to rethink how we welcome guests; trying to figure out what the best way is to make them feel welcomed, but not overwhelmed. I’m thinking we should probably not try out this method!

Another familiar moment that made me smile was during the sermon when a cell phone went off near us. The owner was a much older woman, and it was clear from her fumbling that she had no idea how to get the phone to stop ringing. A teenager down the row from her quickly came to her rescue, hitting the correct button to silence it once more.

It was fascinating to me, because here I am, over 10,000 miles from home, and yet surrounded by the same humanity: people with similar struggles, similar hopes, similar lives.

It reminds me of Indonesia’s national motto, “Unity in Diversity.” A motto that summarizes how, though there are many different cultures, languages, and religions represented in the people that live here, they are all still part of the same country, unified through a common humanity.

This point was driven further home for me during my afternoon activities at ICRP. I was invited to sit in on a LGBT support group that meets there monthly. This is a closed group, and they grow in members through word of mouth only. This is done because out of fear that, if the group was to be made public, they would receive condemnation from the community and their meetings would be protested.

ICRP (Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace) has granted use of their building to this group as a safe haven for them to come and be accepted for who they are, without fear of violence or persecution.

I joined with this group of about 10 young adults and sat with them for two hours as they discussed terminology (difference between gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression), religion, and their struggles to live life here in Jakarta.

One trans-youth was sharing his story of growing up Catholic here, but being told that identifying as anything other than the sex he was at birth (female) was sinful and went against the will of God. He struggled with this growing up as he tried to come to terms with who he felt himself to be; now, he identifies as Agnostic, and is unsure of the role God plays in his life.

Only three of the individuals there spoke fluent english, and so much of the meeting involved one of them stopping to help either translate from indonesian to english for me, or, from english back to indonesian for the others. This happened at one point when they asked me how things were at my church; how we understood LGBT individuals in my context.

I told them that Grace Community is an open congregation; that we do not view LGBT individuals as sinful or as less than God intended them to be. I explained that we have many members who identify as LGBT; that several serve in leadership positions, play in our worship band, read scripture, and serve communion.

The three who understood english immediately replied with, “Wow! No, really?!” The others who did not understand english eagerly asked them to translate. As one of them began telling them what I had said in indonesian, I watched the expressions on their faces change from shock, to awe, to excitement.

They were amazed that places like Grace existed – amazed that there were worshiping communities who would not only welcome and accept LGBT individuals as they are, but who would also recognize them as being able to proclaim the word of God and share in the leading of the church.

It brought tears to my eyes to see their reaction. To know that their desire to be accepted, to be loved, to be active members of worshiping congregations (of all religious traditions and faiths) is one shared by LGBT individuals all over the world; one that is shared by all people all over the world.

I know it is a complex issue (for some), and that there are challenges and roadblocks to have full inclusion of LGBT individuals in our churches, mosques, synagogues…

But, in that moment, looking into the eyes of several trans-youth who feel that God has turned his back on them and therefore feel that they no longer have a place in the religious traditions they were raised in…it felt quite simple:

  • That we should love even those who are not like ourselves,
  • That we should strive to experience life from the perspective of the “other,” and
  • That we should always aim to find unity in the midst of our diversity.