Rev. Pat Williamson knew when he slid into a seat at Unity Temple of New Orleans in 1985 that he would be welcomed there.
“There was a pamphlet in the pew titled Unity Leaves No One Out. That was huge to me, as a gay man, to not be left out,” he recalls.
Williamson, chair of the Unity World Headquarters Board of Directors, knew by the welcome he received that Sunday that those were not empty words. The late Rev. Ruth Murphy, his first teacher in Unity, also “went all out to welcome everyone,” he says.
A sign at Unity Minneapolis, Minnesota, the spiritual community where Rev. Pat serves as senior minister, assures visitors “wherever they are on their spiritual journey they are welcome here.”
One way Unity Minneapolis demonstrates its commitment to inclusivity is by getting involved in the Twin Cities Pride Festival. This year marks the congregation’s seventh year of participation.
“The momentum has grown each year,” Rev. Pat says. “Our congregation truly believes in, and honors, inclusivity. Because it’s important here, people are willing to step in and make efforts to continue to welcome all people and to reach out to the LGBT community. We have as many straight people involved as we do LGBT. I’m thrilled about that. It says to me we walk our talk.”
During this year’s Pride festivities, June 27–28, Unity Minneapolis expects to hand out a thousand copies of the Unity devotional Daily Word®—twice what it gave out a year ago.
Some of Unity Minneapolis’ active congregants discovered the center through its involvement at Pride.
“It’s refreshing” when that happens, Rev. Pat says.
Susan Liddell, a Licensed Unity Teacher at Unity Center of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also wanted to raise the center’s visibility in the LGBT community. Getting involved in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Pride this year is one way to do so.
“We are a community that welcomes all,” she says. “’We accept you wherever you are on your journey. We don’t care from where you have come. This is the message I wanted to take to Pride Fest about Unity. We won’t judge. We don’t think you are sinful. We will welcome you.”
Susan and others at UCR invited congregants to show up and be the face of Unity at Pride Fest. “People were definitely receptive and interested and very supportive of us doing this,” she says.
As a lesbian, Susan says she’s never had to hide who she was at UCR—or in Unity as a whole. She met her wife, Jan, at UCR, where the two were married. She wants others in the LGBT community to see that they, too, will be welcomed at the center.
“Pride is that opportunity to share that acceptance and love I have experienced,” she says. “I find it very important that UCR offers that welcoming message to all of our communities, be that communities of color, LGBT, AA groups, and so on.”
Rev. Pat says Unity validated for him, “There’s a place for me where I’m truly welcome and included.
“I had been hurt, some would call it ‘abused,’ by the very traditional church I came from,” he says. “I had stepped away from the church and thought I wanted nothing else to do with it or organized religion. When I found Unity, I thought, ‘Wow, this is something where I could be accepted in and belong to.’”
It was through Unity that he began to “redefine the God of my understanding and redefine a Higher Power and know that I was loved.”
Through events like Pride, he hopes to get the Unity message of love out—“that they’re welcome here, whoever they are, whatever they’ve done.
“It’s not about selling them on any kind of theology,” he says, “but to give them this place to explore who and what they are, so they can walk away with hope.”
Resources for the LGBT community are available at www.unity.org/lgbt.