Who Will You Welcome?

As I begin writing this article, Jennie, Mason, Kaia and I are in Florida representing you at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada. Some years ago Sharon Watkins, our General Minister and President, unveiled a new identity statement for the denomination at an assembly much like this one. The idea is that this statement “should” serve to guide our thinking about who we are as a church. In case you don’t know it…

We are Disciples of Christ,

a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

As part of the one body of Christ,

we welcome all to the Lord’s Table

as God has welcomed us.

As I mentioned in a previous article, one of the more “volatile” issues of this assembly was a resolution concerning the scope of one word in that statement, all.

The Sense-of-the-Assembly resolution passed. The majority of votes on that day encouraged the church to “become a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children though differing in race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, political stance or theological perspective; and to affirm the faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that neither is grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but we celebrate that all are part of God’s good creation; and as a people of grace and welcome, to acknowledge their support for the welcome of and hospitality to all.”

What does that really mean? Can we be a church that truly welcomes ALL people to the table?

I pray that we can. But, I don’t want us to stop there. I pray that we will be a church, a community of faith, a body of Christ, that can welcome all to the table. But, being a movement for wholeness is not a simple task. And welcoming some may make others uncomfortable. I imagine that there are some of us who fall on both sides of this issue. That is OK. Actually, I believe it is better than OK, it is essential to our continued mission and witness as a church.

Some participants at the Assembly mentioned the potential fallout of the passage of a resolution like this. Though, because of the way our church is structured, we don’t have to do anything differently because of this resolution, there will likely be some individuals and even churches, who are so uncomfortable with the idea of welcoming “those people” (whoever “they” are) that they will leave the fellowship.

And, that makes me very sad. We need to hear those are voices. We cannot be whole if we fragment over these (or any other) issues. And that fragmentation hinders our witness in a world that is already fragmented.

All of that goes to say this: if you have strong feelings about this resolution and about how it may affect us as a congregation, please come and talk with me. I believe that many of these issues are best discussed face-to-face, or in a small group. I have also had a few requests to host another service of healing and wholeness and will be planning that for the near future.

I look forward to being back in worship with you all as we work to be a place where all people are welcome to develop in their relationships with themselves, with one another and with God.

From Welcome to Invited

A while ago I wrote about a change of posture, from being “welcoming” to becoming “inviting.” Those thoughts have continued to swirl and have caused me to think more and more about not only how we are (or are not) inviting as a congregation, but how I am (or am not) inviting as a person. During this time the Worship Committee has also been looking at the design of our worship bulletin and they have come up with a slightly different design that will premier beginning in August.

All of this combined got me to thinking about one particular element of our worship, the Statement of Welcome. I would have to look back over old editions of Our Church Life to see for sure, but I think we have been hearing or reciting together some version of that statement for the past three to four years. It has become so much a part of our worship that several weeks ago, when the projection computer froze, most of us were able to recite the welcome from memory.

That is a good thing! We have begun to embrace the statements we make on Sunday morning and to make them a part of our daily lives. Understanding, and respecting, that we all come from different places when we gather to worship is essential (in my opinion) to being a welcoming community of faith. It is good. But could we be great?

I know in my heart of hearts that we can. I believe what John records as one of the final teachings of Jesus “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it.” (John 14:12, The Message). Think of all the miracles, all the teachings of Jesus… We are called to be more than imitators of Christ, we are called to do even greater miracles!

But, that can (at least to me) seem like a rather daunting task. As a matter of fact, it usually sounds impossible to me. I want to strive toward the goal, but… In those moments of doubt, I cling to another promise of scripture, that I, that we, can attain these things, not through our own work (so that we could boast) but through Christ who lives in and works through us.

So, what does this all mean? How are we going to work toward becoming “great” and “inviting,” while still remaining welcoming? Well, one of the first steps will be debuting the same time as that new bulletin (if all goes according to plan.) While I am away at General Assembly and at seminary in the next few weeks, I will be praying diligently and writing for us a new element of worship. It will replace our statement of welcome and will include elements of invitation as well as welcome. Then we will try it on for size, and if it moves us toward being inviting and welcoming, it will become a part of our worship together.

At least for a time… Then, when God has moved us further down the road of faith together, we will see what new doors are being opened for us. For now, however, I do have a task for you as well, if you will accept it… Please be in earnest prayer for me as I listen for God’s leading as we seek after the God Who Is. I look forward to this next step on our journey of faith together. Imagine what amazing things God has in store for us!