The Blog I was going to publish today was all about how unwelcoming churches in general can be. I wrote long paragraphs about how difficult it can be to walk into the doors of a church for the first time. I wrote about the insecurities some of us have and how hard it is to go to new places and to feel out of place. I wrote about trying to smile and talk to people even if they are different from us.
But then two things happened.
The first was that I realized that I am part of the Church. I am part of the unwelcome. I couldn’t distance myself and say that I am doing everything right and others are doing it all wrong. And I know that I don’t respond well to criticism (just ask Terence). So maybe what the Church and I need is a bit of encouragement here.
The second thing that happened is that I went to church yesterday. I went with my son (aged 4) and 2 other kids (aged 5, and 6). My husband was at a different church that day, so I was flying solo. I was in charge of teaching Sunday School and I was probably a little on edge, but there were people there who really pulled through for me. When my son lost a microscopic piece of lego, those in the pews ahead and in the pews behind got down on their hands and knees to look for it (and perhaps to pray that he would stop whining). A lady in a nearby seat noticed one of the girls in my charge seeing a little bored. So she invited the girl to sit next to her, she lifted her up so she could see more of what was happening at the front, and she let her heart be won over by this lively and inquisitive young child. In Sunday School some of the older kids helped the younger ones wash their hands and get their snacks. And when we decided to have a picnic on the floor during coffee hour, we were joined by another young women who sat with us and made the experience fun. She even saved the carpet from a lemonade spill.
I guess the thing that bothers me about the times when the Church is unwelcoming or makes others feel awkward or excluded, is that we can be so much better than that. I wanted to post about these things because the Church has such a unique gift to offer the community – if it will only dare to open itself up. Our churches seem to unequivocally agree that this is a friendly and welcoming group that will accept you just as you are and yet there are many who come to us and find that we are only friendly and welcoming to the people who are just like us. We have the gift of community and relationship. We have the ability to make people feel welcome, a valued part of our company. We can even make people feel like they are honoured guests.
I know we have these gifts because I saw them on Sunday, but I also know that we don’t always share these gifts.
In our work, Terence and I have seen the immeasurable wealth of the Church. The Church has the one resource that government groups and non-profits all wished they had: people to be in relationship with. My friend who works at the methadone clinic has told me that it takes at least 3 stable people to help one person who is struggling. This means that there is a desperate need for people who are willing to contribute to society in the most fundamental way: by being friends. The Church could be a place of connection, relationship, and support. A place where we share our concerns and our resources. An exciting place where we never know who God is going to bring to us next.
Are we ready to open our doors and our hearts? Are we ready to let go of our comfort so we can show our faith by the love and welcome we offer others?
By Jasmine Chandra