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There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you until the day you begin to share your stories.

By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle

Not long ago, I happened to be in a bookstore where there was a selection of shelves near the entrance with ‘banned books’.

The section was a direct nod to recent controversies over what types of books should be available in schools. Artwork on the covers showed some clear patterns as to what types of books are upsetting those who are calling for these bans.

As my congregation has been doing some outreach to young families, I found myself tempted by a children’s book called “The Day You Begin”. The artwork on the cover shows a child with dark skin, dark curly hair, and brown eyes tentatively leaning into the entrance of, based on the ruler etched on the door, what one might assume is a classroom.

The story proceeds to share the angst of being in a space where no one is quite like you. Continued use of that second person, singular pronoun, seems to serve as an invitation to consider those times when the readers have likewise experienced angst about being different…

• There will be times when the lunch your mother packed for you is too strange or too unfamiliar for others to love as you do.

• There will be times when the climbing bars are too high, the run is too fast and far, the game isn’t one you can ever really play.

• There will be times when the world feels like a place that you’re standing all the way outside of…

As the story continues, we are reminded that simply being in a space is not the same as feeling included. We can be in a classroom, and in a church, without fully feeling as though we are accepted as we are and for who we are. In the story we recognize that those who are different need more than the message that ‘all are welcome here’ because, too often, that ‘welcome’ holds the underlying expectation that being ‘here’ means to exist within some preestablished norms about lunches and athletic ability and interests. Being ‘welcome’ means conforming to the practices and traditions that are assumed to define how we exist in that space. Being ‘here’ means not challenging or changing that which makes everyone else comfortable. Being ‘here’ means leaving bits of who are you outside so that we can continue in the ways that make us happy.

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you until the day you begin to share your stories.

The turning point in the book is the same turning point we need to move from the message of ‘all are welcome’ to the ideal of ‘all are included’. The day we begin, is the day when we intentionally make space for people to share their stories embracing all of who they are even if that challenges us. Even when that changes us! To move to that ideal of being a diverse church we need to communicate the authentic message to those who need to hear it: “You belong here. We will make space for you to fully be who you are and share whatever gifts you choose to share. We know we are better when you are here”.

Ultimately the children in the book come to realize, through storytelling, that there are spaces in which they are similar and ways in which they are different, and these are both gifts. How often have we seen this exact same realization manifest in those spaces and places that are truly inclusive? What has happened for us when we have allowed unfamiliarity and discomfort to challenge and change us? How are we better because we have included people in our midst? What more can we do to communicate that ideal of belonging, making space, and acknowledging the grace and gift of presence? Can we imagine how this work might contribute to the ideal of becoming a new church? What will it take for us to continually embrace the wonder that comes with that day we begin?

(Italics are quotes taken from: The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez, Nancy Paulsen Books, New York, 2018)

Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is a tri-chair of SEJH and a tri-chair of Justice League of Huron.