It’s a big deal, says Michael Hiltzik, a Catholic who has been a member of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Los Angeles for three decades.
“I’ve been married three times.
I’ve never prayed outside of church,” he says.
“So it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve prayed.
So to be able to pray at all, it was like a dream come true.”
He says the church’s refusal to allow him to pray outside of the sanctuary is something he had to deal with for years.
He’s not alone.
Some pastors and clergy in the Lutheran church, which is a member church of Trinity Lutheran, say they have had to tell people that they’re no longer welcome to pray.
They say the rules don’t go far enough.
Many church leaders say the exclusion of some people from worshiping has led to a disconnect between church and the people who attend church.
They worry that people who want to go to church but aren’t sure about their faith will find it difficult to reconcile that with their faith.
“People feel like they’re losing the trust of people who are not like them, who are going to see them as a threat,” says Joanne Koehn, a Lutheran pastor who has served as a pastor in San Diego, Phoenix, and Chicago.
“It’s not a safe space for people of faith.”
Some pastors say the problem extends beyond a lack of worship spaces.
“In the past, the people we were serving were not just our congregants,” says Joel O’Donnell, the founder and pastor of the New Jersey Lutheran Church.
“They were our friends, our family members.
But now they are not.”
Some churches say they’ve been asked to change their worship rules to accommodate transgender people, for example, or allow them to use restrooms that align with their gender identity.
Others say that as church attendance has fallen, people who come to worship for the first time have been told to stay home.
“When you’re seeing people come to the church and go into a place where they might be uncomfortable, it makes it hard to go back,” O’Neill says.