June 28, 2017

Thoughts on Inclusivity

Thoughts on Inclusivity
Polly Winkelmann

rainbow_people_640Growing up in South St. Louis County during the fifties and sixties, I’d not yet heard the words “diversity” or “inclusivity.” I did not encounter people of different colors, cultures or creeds in my neighborhood or my school. We were Protestants and Catholics served as our “Other.” I would be a young adult before having my first Jewish friend. If I knew any gay people they were not “out of the closet” and disabled students then were educated in separate buildings. The St. Louis I grew up in was divided into neighborhoods devoid of diversity. I joke with a Jewish friend that I simply had no reason to be in her neighborhood in my youth, and she admits that South St. Louis County is still a place she requires GPS to navigate. Sadly, St. Louis in 2015 still stands out among large metropolitan areas for its lack of diverse neighborhoods.

Though I lived in several mid-American communities after I left St. Louis in 1972, it was not until I moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1989 that I finally had the opportunity to live and work in a rainbow of diversity. Many of my daughters’ friends were first or second generation Americans and I taught at a school with few Caucasians among the students or staff. My experiences there enriched my life and broadened my perspectives. I no longer experienced “Melting Pot” as a textbook term, but as the pulsing heart that has and continues to make a vibrant, vigorous America.

 Obviously, many positive social changes have happened since my youth. I’m proud that the United Church of Christ has been a leader in not just promoting inclusivity in their congregations, but also in taking progressive stands on social justice issues dating back to colonial America.

During the years that I have now belonged to Parkway U.C.C., I have seen it try to live into its creed of being “intentionally inclusive.” I believe that our move to become an Open and Affirming congregation was more than just “politically correct words.” I feel we offer a sincere welcome to both gay couples and their children. In recent years Parkway has also taken steps to make itself more handicapped accessible with the addition of an automated front door and automated restroom doors.

Could we do more? The answer to that is always “yes.” How do we achieve more racial diversity given our geographic location? Does our “extravagant welcome” include the transgendered population? What should our role be as the St. Louis area seeks to heal following Ferguson and the issues it raised? Our Parkway youth already encounter a more diverse world than I grew up in. My hope for my church and my hometown is that the “diversity” of the future will truely exceed my imagination.