By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle
Churches love to say that we are friendly and welcoming.
No doubt there is a lot of truth to this claim. How many families and individuals were welcomed to our Christmas services last month? How many others walk through our doors throughout the year and encounter glimpses of community?
All the same, we must continually ask ourselves are there limits to our welcoming?
- What would happen if someone walked into our coffee hour in tattered clothes and smelling of alcohol or marijuana? Who would greet them? Who would take the time to listen to their stories? Or would they simply be given a cup of coffee and otherwise be ignored?
- How do we really treat families with children who may be ‘unruly’ as they run around the sanctuary and distract from our worship? Are there those who would flash dirty looks at the parents, challenging them to quiet their children? Or are there those who would choose to ‘adopt’ the children and provide support so that the parents might find worship meaningful?
- What about those with special needs? Would the utterances of someone who is Autistic be welcomed? Or would people question their presence in an effort to maintain the sanctity of worship?
- Are there churches where a lesbian or gay couple would feel comfortable sharing a kiss at the passing of the peace? Or would we deem this an inappropriate display of affection? Would a transgender person feel comfortable in our pews?
- To what extent are our churches open to the immigrants, refugees, people living poverty and others we may serve through our outreach programming when it comes to worship? Do we include such people in our leadership so that we can better learn their stories and serve these communities?
- Are there those who have ever said that if a church does something they will attract the ‘wrong’ kind of people? Is there a ‘wrong’ kind of people for our communities? Are there types of individuals whose mere mention in a sermon or sharing is viewed as ‘offensive’ or ‘overly political’?
If we say ‘yes’ to even one of these, can we honestly say that our Church is friendly and welcoming to everyone? How might we engage in frank conversation about the ways in which we can be better examples of the unconditional love embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?
One of the regular complaints about Jesus was that he had a tendency to eat and drink with outcasts and sinners. He welcomed those on the margins and created space through which these individuals could return to fuller participation in the life of the community. This radical inclusion challenges many even today and yet, in our Baptismal Covenant we are called to ‘…seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself’ and to ‘…respect the dignity of every human being” (see BAS p. 159). How are these commitments embodied in our Churches now? What can we do better?
As we set goals for the coming year at our annual vestry meetings, perhaps this is a good moment to consider how our actions can embody the Good News of God’s love for all people. One way to fulfill this Mark of Mission is to consider a group whom we might struggle to welcome and intentionally choose to meet them, listen to them and find ways to include them in the lives of our church community. Imagine how wonderful it might be for someone who has been hurt by less than welcoming reactions in church to finally find community?
May our efforts to truly welcome all of God’s Beloved Children be blessed.
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is the Social and Ecological Justice Huron chair.