I read a comment on Facebook this morning by a friend and colleague in ministry who is now the Conference Minister for the Minnesota Conference of the UCC asking the question, “Just what does it mean to be ‘extravagantly welcome’? Her context was specifically regarding social justice issues and she was asking if the UCC ‘tent’ is really big enough to include conservatives whose positions were diametrically opposed to our own ideas.
It is an interesting idea to start thinking about. And it created a lengthy discussion.
Is ours a welcoming community, ‘no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey’? I believe that we extend a welcome to individuals and offer an opportunity for all people to become part of our community, up to the point where a person might come with the intent to harm and so long as they do no harm to others in the community or the community itself. This means we do not let a pedophile make victims of our children, we do not let bullies have their way, and we do not let individuals control what happens because we want to be accommodating to everyone.
We do have people in Hope Church who disagree politically and with regards to fiscal issues, we have people who disagree theologically and on social justice issues but we are in conversation with one another. We work together here for the sake of this community which strives to be accepting of all people where people wish to participate in our common mission. Where my concern comes for Hope Church is not in how we attempt to make others feel welcome, but in whether or not all visitors actually do feel like they have the opportunity to be “at one” with our community. In a sense I think I am saying that the focus ought to shift from, “we welcome you here”, to “we want you to feel part of our mission to welcome here.” As welcoming as we strive to be; some people will not feel comfortable in our midst.
People will not always feel at peace with our beliefs. Some people will be offended that we are as inclusive as we are. Some who come will not be comfortable with themselves in our environment and by this I mean their own self-awareness will weigh heavy on their hearts and they will choose a place where they are more at home ‘socio-economically’ or ethnically. Not because we are not welcoming but because they are not comfortable or do not share the mission.
There are certainly situations where we must set boundaries. However, it is in setting those boundaries that society gets carried away by becoming overly legalistic. It is a fine line we walk. One does not have to agree with all we say or do but one does have to agree to respect and not harm another, or the community. Respect is, I believe, the root of loving your neighbor. Respect for the rights of each person to believe as they wish so long as that belief does no harm, respect for another person’s decision to believe differently, and respect for one’s self and the ability for one to feel part of a community which is different from oneself, are all incredibly important.
Blessings to you!