One local religious organization is going above and beyond to do what they feel is fully embracing the message of Jesus. The Portsmouth Welcoming Community is working to spread their message of inclusivity and acceptance to those seeking support, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression, socio-economic status, race, origin, religious or non-religious background, and physical and mental condition in the community. “We have monthly LGBTQ support groups for teens, adults, parents and a separate transgender support group,” said Pastor Justin DeLong. “We have a different group each Tuesday of the month. We have Welcoming Church on Sunday evenings for those seeking a more spiritual community. We host Coffee and Conversation which is non-religious and is focused on discussion topics important to our community and focuses on building relationships. We have started opening up on Monday evenings for a game night or hang out space for those to come and simply be themselves. Everything usually starts at 6pm.”
Delong stated in addition to the events already in place, the community wants to commit to hosting one LGBTQ or social justice type of workshop one Saturday each month.
The Portsmouth Welcoming Community describes themselves as a Community of Christ congregation that strives to fully embrace and live the message of Jesus.
Community of Christ proclaims the worth of all people as an enduring principle of our faith movement,” said DeLong. “The goal of the Portsmouth Welcoming Community is to create a loving and welcoming place for all who are seeking a spiritual home or simply yearning for a community of love and support.”
According to the organizational webpage, the defining goal of Portsmouth Welcoming Community is the inclusion, love, and equality of all. “In commitment to this goal, we aspire to build spiritual and socio-economic relationships based on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. We pledge to openly stand up for racial, gender, ethnic and LGBTQ+ equality in our church and community,” states the organization. “When looking for a church for my children and myself, I was afraid I wouldn’t find one that echoed my own values of equality; imagine my surprise when I found the Portsmouth Welcoming Community,” said member Maggie Fout. “Not only do they fulfill our spiritual needs they also work to provide a sanctuary to all those who are broken or seeking community. It is an organization that lifts individuals up and finds them all worthy, sex, gender, orientation, spiritual or non-spiritual backgrounds, addiction, mental struggles, physical struggles; in that place none of that matters .. you are just loved.”
More than a support group, or a religious organization, Portsmouth Welcoming Community opens its arms to those who have faced discrimination in the past and offers its members a sense of belonging.
“I was raised in a church that left me with years of emotional trauma because of my gender identity,” said Elizabeth Elrod. “The Welcoming Community has been actively working to heal that trauma within me and provide a safe space for me to just be myself. The resources that are provided have changed my life, and the churchgoers have become my new family.”
Through their understanding and positive messages of inclusion, Portsmouth Welcoming Community has attracted many individuals back into faith.
“As a Christian and a gay man who was made to feel unloved and unwelcome by other churches in the past, I was originally hesitant to attend Portsmouth Welcoming Community of Christ. However, I quickly learned that it is a sanctuary of love,” said Bennie Blevins. “My sexual orientation is embraced and accepted as not something that is broken or needs fixed, but as a gift that God can use to minister others who have been broken, injured, marginalized, and made to feel isolated by their communities.”