Given its small size of 2.1 square miles, it’s no wonder that the Little City of Falls Church has fostered such a close knit community. While the “issue” of being “queer” (a generic reference to homosexual that is meant in a non-derogatory sense) has persisted in various churches for decades, local churches in the City have made it a mission to be more inclusive and open to people, regardless of who they are.
There are a number of prominent signs in front of churches in the Little City that display rainbow flags and emphasize “all are welcome.”
One case is Diane Maloney. She has been on the staff at Falls Church Presbyterian for almost four years where she serves as the Director of Spiritual Growth and Community Engagement.
“One of the things that drew me to Falls Church Presbyterian was how open and affirming they were,” said Maloney. “As a queer person myself, it is very hard to find jobs in churches and hard to find places that will accept and welcome you with open arms as your whole self.”
Falls Church Presbyterian joined the Covenant Network of Presbyterians in the mid-90s. Essentially a sub-ministry that churches can join that “seeks an equity still not fully realized for LGBTQIA+ people in church and society” by “engaging,” “educating” and “equipping.”
Maloney grew up attending church and youth groups and found herself called to ministry in her teen years.
“When I realized I was queer a year or two later I felt like I couldn’t have both things so I spent a lot of time battling that and trying to decide if I just live my life in the closet as a minister since I feel like that’s where God is calling me. Or, do I live as who I feel like I am and disregard this thing I feel I’m being called to,” she said about her teen and young adult experience. “I did my undergrad degree and then went to seminary and was still undecided. In seminary, I had this shift within me of understanding the entirety of scripture and who God is. God is love and where there is love, God is present. That shifted some of the things in my head and made me feel like I could live my life like that. Once I finished seminary I started to look for a church that was open and affirming where I could be my whole self and that’s how I found Falls Church Presbyterian.”
Working with many teens in the church, Maloney works to make sure everyone feels loved and accepted. It includes a mural (pictured along with this article) that features the quote “You belong here.”
“For me, as a person who works with youth and has invested a lot of my life into teenagers, I wanted that to be a message that they heard as they came up the stairs. You belong here no matter what,” said Maloney.
While Falls Church Presbytrian has been affirming for many years, things are not as simple in the United Methodist Church. While Falls Church’s Dulin and Christ Crossman Methodist churches both make an effort to be as inclusive as possible, there are some roadblocks in place.
The United Methodist Church has a General Conference every four years but was delayed due to Covid-19. The conference features a discussion of issues such as queer affirmation and same sex marriages in the church. The General Conference is the “only body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination,” according to UMC.org.
According to J.P. Hong, lead Pastor at Christ Crossman, “We’ve been working towards a peaceful dissolution so that there will be a more centrist, progressive denomination and then those who are more traditional will be pulling away and forming their own more traditional denomination. In the midst of that, our congregation of Falls Church definitely aligns within the more progressive and liberal view on what inclusion should entail and ought to look like.”
Hong was placed at Christ Crossman almost four years ago, working to bring more inclusion to the church.
“When I entered, it was very clear that this congregation was healing from some of that tension of the past year where their Lead Pastor was of a different theological viewpoint than the majority of the congregation,” said Hong. “One of the first things that happened when I entered was a need and desire to bring clarity to what our position was. We had a series of town hall gatherings where people had an opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions. We as a congregation voted to recognize that we were a congregation that when we say we are fully inclusive, that included persons of different genders and sexual identities.”
Reverend Dave Kirkland, Pastor at Dulin Church, expressed similar concerns as Hong as they await decisions to be made by the General Conference.
In next week’s edition of the News-Press: Count the historic Falls Church Episcopal on that list, too.