All-Welcoming From the Inside Out
By Pastor Mike
As individuals and institutions, we are bequeathed both poverty and gifts. Our vitality is contingent on becoming aware of, befriending, and using both toward an integrated, fruitful life. We often try to minimize or eliminate our poverty while maximizing our gifts, and yet the best-balanced life recognizes the way those two are interwoven and need to work together. This is a vulnerable, risky, but necessary enterprise, if we want to live a life of growth and freedom. Dr. Terry Nelson-Johnson
Friends, I want to share with you my vision for what it looks like to be and become an all-welcoming church family. As I mentioned in the sermon last Sunday, this is the first focused conversation I have begun to take up with our Leadership Team, and I want to be open about my approach. I begin with this quote by Terry Nelson-Johnson. Though his name suggests him the product of an egalitarian Swedish Covenant marriage, he is, in fact, a Catholic, trained by Jesuits among others. He is also my spiritual director and one of my favorite people on the planet.
What Dr. Nelson-Johnson gets at in this quote lies at the heart of my vision for an all-welcoming church family. Being and becoming all-welcoming, as Jesus is, does not begin by focusing on the exterior issues that are necessarily raised when we talk about welcoming all. I wish it were that easy, but the reality is—and the recent history of the Covenant Church bears witness to this—that seeking to change one another’s minds about external issues brings us no closer to a lived reality of inclusivity. Instead, it sequesters us to the tired old binaries that keep us divided: liberal or conservative, mainline or evangelical, Democrat or Republican, Us or Them.
Instead of giving our collective energy to the exterior, I envision creating together an environment that is all-welcoming from the inside out. This requires bold self-examination, transparency and vulnerability, being willing to face questions like:
- What aspects of my life do I hold back from my church community, or even from God, lest I be found out to be a below-average Christian?
- Are there aspects of my own life that I do not welcome? Can I accept myself for who I really am and present that person to God?
- How have I experienced the transformative power of God’s grace in my life, mending the broken parts, healing the wounds, strengthening my weakness?
These kinds of questions can be quite unsettling, for they lead us to an exploration of our poverty and threaten the illusions we create to convince ourselves (and others) that we are good and worthy people. But to be and become a truly all-welcoming person and community requires that we are in touch with our poverty and are willing to open ourselves up, brokenness and all, to God’s redeeming love. When we do this together, and we begin to experience the healing we long for, we not only deepen our communion with God and the church, but we expand our capacity to love and accept others who are also broken, just in different ways.