Thursday 26 May 2016

We'll take anyone ... and we mean it

Almost a year and a half ago, I preached a sermon about the magi coming to find Jesus.  I've written about this before; more than once or twice, probably.  I suggested that the magi being from another country - and not Jews - tells us that, even from his birth, Jesus is for everyone, just as God’s love is for everyone.  It’s another reminder to us that we, as followers of Jesus should welcome everyone.

I began that sermon by saying that I had a dream that, one day, our church, and churches everywhere, would have a big sign on the front of their building, where everyone could see it, that said “we’ll take anyone.”  Jesus’ life tells us that in how he sought out the marginalized, just as this story of his birth reminds us that anyone can come to Jesus.  I also suggested that we’d have a sign inside, where we could see it, that said “and we mean it.”  A little something to remind us to live it, not just say it.

Before the end of the week someone in our congregation had put those signs up.  I hope that we do endeavour to live into those signs everyday.  Isn’t that part of what “being church” is all about?

I'm sure there's some who don't care for our sign.  Some might disagree with it entirely and that's okay.  Some people believe that church ought to be more exclusive and you should believe a certain thing and act a certain way to get in.  We don't.  You are welcome, whoever you are, however you are, because we believe that's the way Jesus would do it and we're trying to follow the way of Jesus.  We hope.  We do our best, but just hold that thought for a minute, I'm coming back to that.

Some might think it's a nice idea, but if we'll take anyone, what does that say about us?  Does that mean we're all just "anyone?"  Um, yes, yes it does.  Going to church doesn't make us special or better than others or superior or any of those things.  I think it helps us live.  I think it helps us understand God and each other better.  I think it helps us learn about Jesus and how living like Jesus can make the world a better place.  I think it helps us love and support each other and creates a sense of community and belonging based on that love and support.  I think it helps us wonder about spiritual things, mysteries of life and the universe and all that, and maybe, just maybe, help us answer a few questions for ourselves.

Anyone, openly, equally and without cost or fear of judgement or anything else, should be able to do that.  And not just able to do it, but appreciated for what they bring to the community.  You might not want to come or it might not feel like a good fit or you might disagree with everything we might say or do, but you are welcome here.  
We hope.  Let me go back to that for a second.  I hope we live into that sign.  I hope it means more than words.  But I think it’s an ongoing process of experience, learning and growing.  Being welcoming is more than just a smile and a handshake, it’s being intentional in how we engage people, both those who come into our church and those who we meet outside the church.

So, this June, our church is considering whether it will engage in the United Church's Affirming process.
The Affirming Ministries Program describes itself as an educational and discernment process that reflects on what it means to be inclusive and evaluates our congregation’s openness to including all others in the life and work of our ministry.  This means learning about and engaging a variety of areas that may be barriers to people coming to our community, including age, gender, race, ability, class, economic status and, in particular to the Affirming Ministry, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The process is different for every congregation, because every congregation is different.  It is tailored to our specific context and community, but will include sharing stories, discussion on the use of scripture to affirm and to discriminate, hearing from other Affirming ministries, social justice workshops and discussion.  There are a variety of resources available that we would work on over the next year or two.

As we discuss this and, potentially explore it further, I hope that we hear from anyone who wants to share their thoughts and feelings with us.  Process or not, we've opened a door you're welcome to walk through.