I sat in the pew preparing for the service: marking my hymns and making sure my phone was turned off. As the organ started, I stood with the rest of the congregation glancing ahead still nervous about the liturgical-style worship. The minister lead us in the Call to Worship, we sang another hymn, and sat down.
From behind me, I heard, “Well, they didn’t pay much attention to who was up this week did they? Four gray-haired men doesn’t make us seem so welcoming and affirming.”
I looked up and noticed the person behind me was right. The church had female ministers and ordained female ministers, but you wouldn’t have known that if this was the first time visiting the church because four white, male men over fifty who occupied the four chairs on the platform. I hadn’t noticed it because growing up in a Southern Baptist Church, there were always only men on the platform, most of them were my parents’ age or older. That was just the norm.
But this church was supposed to be a moderate or, actually, a progressive baptist church. As a young, female seminarian at the time, I wondered who was in charge of noticing not just the elements of the worship service, but how the church looked on Sunday morning.
Whether we like it or not, first impressions make all the difference to people who are seeking a moderate or progressive experience. If churches claim to be moderate or progressive but don’t have women participating in the service, then their words and actions don’t match. If churches claim to be invested in developing young ministers, but don’t have young ministers participating in the service, then their words and actions don’t match.
We can say all we want to that we are moderate or progressive, open and affirming, but until we do something to include all people in our churches and in our worship services, then our words are meaningless.
Actions speak louder than words.