Rev. Phiwa Langeni

Comprehensive Community Center to Open in Lansing

Salus Center Will Tend to Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Needs of LGBTQ People, Their Families and Allies

BY JASON A. MICHAEL

Rev. Phiwa Langeni has a vision - to create an LGBT resource and community center in the Lansing area that offers a spiritual component including a church that meets onsite.

"I believe that humanity, humans, is made to be whole and to be well," said Langeni about the Salus Center, which is scheduled to open in September. "And I think particularly in the LGBT community, culture has us believing otherwise. In some ways I am creating a space that I know I needed both when I was young and trying to wrestle with coming out and being a Christian in a tradition that was not accepting."

The need for such a space was obvious to Langeni, who recently came out as transgender and struggles to find basic level resources.

"I couldn't find a place to go to just be my full self," they said. "It can be extremely dehumanizing to walk into some place, like a health clinic, and find out that they're not trans-friendly. That's what compelled me to bring people into a space of 'wholeness and wellness' from the Latin word Salus."

The Salus Center United Church of Christ will be included, but Langeni is not planning to operate as a traditional church does. They explained that one does not have to have any kind of religious beliefs or understandings.

"The worship community is optional and not a requirement for anyone to participate in anything in the center. It's a multifaith rather than interfaith congregation," they said. "Some of the things that I'm hoping to have in that space is that we'll be listening to music on the radio. There will be no pews or hymn books."

To date, the bulk of funding the center has received has come from the Conference UCC. But Langeni is hoping to diversify by applying for grants and seeking monies elsewhere.

"We've been hosting local fundraisers. It brings us together as a community," they said, adding that they plans to host a talent show in October. Langeni is also attempting to network with other centers throughout the state.

"I'm actively kind of putting out a lot of tentacles simultaneously," they said. "I'm trying to build connections that work and I have a few people who are getting me connected to these centers. I know Holland just created a new one so I'd be very interested to hear their process of doing this at sort of the same time I am. For me, there's a sense of urgency. Maybe this is me being a faith person - kind of leaping in before all of the pieces are set already. People are actively dying. To wait and not respond to a need that has been expressed in multiple different ways, I felt we just needed to hop in and make this happen."

The Salus Center will be open Sunday through Thursday with hours to be announced. The staff, aside from Langeni, will be volunteer-based. On any given day a visitor to the Salus Center might find a locally curated art exhibit gracing its walls, a transgender support group meeting, or a Reiki healer offering private sessions. All programming for the center will fit into what Langeni calls the LGBTQ model - Love, Grow, Be, Transform and Question.

Love, they said, is attending to service and justice.

"It means being able to gather folk and express concerns that are not LGBT only. But being able to gather folks around justice opportunities," they said.

Grow is about education to begin shifting culture to be able to better welcome and serve the LGBT community.

For example, they said, "To train facilitators to do peer facilitation for trans folk and families of trans folk in the community."

Be is the worship community. They points to One Love, a new church in Lansing that will use the Salus Center on Sunday mornings in addition to energy workers.

"I'm currently talking to someone who will be leading queer yoga and other spiritual practices that people can find in that space," said Langeni, who said Transform is about community, and they means a radical community.

"A welcome that says I have to be different to welcome you here in this space. If you're not free there's no way I can be free. Coming from South Africa there's the concept of Ubuntu. My humanity is not whole if you're not whole as a human. To me that's what transformative community is about," they said.

Langeni will challenge visitors to Question their inherited and imbedded beliefs.

"Being able to question what we've all kind of inherited in different ways and being able to interpret differently is I believe essential to this work of wholeness," they said.

Beyond this LGBTQ model, what the Salus Center will become is shaped by the community Langeni hopes to serve.

"I have such a collaborative leading style and I hope that folks in the community will feel empowered to name their needs," they said. "People are already saying this is what I have to offer. Is there room for it? And as long as it's in line with our mission I'm trying to accommodate it."

The Salus Center is located at 624 E. Michigan Avenue in Lansing. An open house is scheduled for Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. For more information, call 517-580- 4593, visit http://saluscenter.org or http://facebook.com/SalusCenterMI/.
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