Reflections on Welcoming re: Matthew 10:40-42 June 28, 2020
Rhea Y., Chair of Westworth Affirming Committee
Hi my name is Rhea Y. and I’m the Chair of the Affirming Committee at Westworth United Church. The role of the Affirming Committee is to be welcoming of people of all gender identifies and sexual orientations. Our role is to be public, intentional, and explicit about our welcome. We have done that in several ways: by adding messages on our website about the work of the Affirming Committee; and also about our policies to take away some of the guesswork as to whether or not we would be welcoming to people of various sexual orientations and gender identities.
We’re also working to be welcoming in a general sense to anyone who walks into the church for a Sunday Service. We work very hard on that and Loraine has helped us model after other churches on how they are welcoming. We do our best to ensure that everyone who walks through the door is greeted and welcomed.
If we were trying to improve, we may want to ask people about whether they feel welcome or not after they visit the church. So I guess that assumes that they come back. But it would be interesting to have their reflections about the kind of welcome that they are seeking as compared to what we offer.
What stuck with me was listening to a person describe how it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the back of the church and see those people who might be planning their escape at any moment and to make sure to make room for them. I know in this church there are many people who are very good friends with each other and support each other through hard times. What I see on Sunday is a lot of people who are very keen to catch up with each other on what’s happened during the week. So maybe if we were looking to improve, one possibility might be to try to not speak to the people you know one week and only speak to the people you don’t know just see if there is anything to learn.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts today. Thank you.
Rita S., member of St. Andrew’s River Heights Affirming Interest Group
I am Rita S., a member of the Affirming Interest Group at St. Andrew’s River Heights United Church, here in Winnipeg. We have been an Affirming Ministry for five years. It all started in 2013, with the congregation deciding to journey together on this 2 year quest. Acceptance by a vote of 100% agreeable response was recorded in 2015.
Our journey started with introducing the many different ISMS that are present in our society today and how we might move forward in understanding and learning how we could give support. We also have been journeying to support those who require a safe place to be themselves, no matter what life they have chosen to live.
The joys we have faced have been in the times we have been able to acknowledge our support with signs of our learnings. Examples would be our elevator and ramp for entrance into our space, accessibility to washrooms, moveable seating to accommodate wheelchairs & walkers, 2 sizes of print in hymn books & printed service, recognition of the LGBTTIQQ2SA ( lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersexual, queer, questioning, 2 spirited & allies) community with a symbol on church sign, a clear vase showing a mix of different coloured sand, a cross with the pride ribbons attached, and also the created dove & rainbow pin that many of our congregation wear. Further to these symbols, we have had joyous celebrations of same gender marriages, baptism of children with same gender parents and guest speakers from different beliefs & life living.
Our hearts swell when we know & see that those who may have a disability ( seen or unseen) attend services or group activities and show how comfortable they are to be a part of St. Andrew’s River Heights. We become one of their family and give them support.
As you enter the doors of the church we have greeters that are friendly and ready to help newcomers or steadfast congregates in any way they can. The best is making it feel like you are home and part of a family.
To approach our continuing journey in being Affirming, we need to continue to help educate the congregation through stories, scripture, & information sessions.
Our prayers lately have been for the support in understanding what is happening in our world today due to Racism. We are all God’s children no matter the colour of our skin or beliefs.
Rev. Karen Lumley, minister at St. Andrew’s River Heights United Church
Who remembers opening a box of caramel popcorn called Cracker Jack. Do you remember it? If you do, then you must also remember that each box contained more than the famous snack food. A part of the charm of opening a box of Cracker Jack was anticipating the prize inside. Maybe it would be a small picture book, or a medal, or a small toy. It didn’t matter so much what the prize was, what mattered was that there was a surprise in the box the sweet popcorn came with something else. To receive the box of sweet popcorn was to receive the surprise that came along with it.
There is a surprise in receiving others, in welcoming others. There is an anticipation and appreciation for those we welcome for they are a gift themselves and truly they are a gift of surprise. When churches were open and people came we welcomed them. We appreciate who they are, what they bring, and their coming changes us. Whenever, anyone comes we are to be welcoming as if they were Jesus himself. Imagine that! That would certainly change things I hunch. Also, allowing others to challenge and re-shape our understanding of church and of welcome is important as well.
We are the church, whether we are meeting in a building or meeting on line. We are not re-opening our churches we are in a new phase, re-entering the COVID-19 world and church in a different way. We welcome one another as Jesus would welcome. God speaks up in the strangest of places, through COVID-19 we have and are learning to be church differently. We are learning to be welcoming differently. If we believe that God may show up in the strangest of places, God may be found anywhere or anytime that puts all of us on alert and inspires us to be alert to others and their needs.
The God in me greets the God in you. Be alert to the divine in us and among us. Often the divine among us is the unexpected gift in another. Be alert to the vibrant and vital life as it is yet to be.
God is a God of welcome. A God of surprises anywhere, anytime and in anyone. Be ready for the surprise and the prize, be ready to welcome all as though they were Christ himself. Be inclusive in that welcome for that is the challenge Jesus calls us to offering them the greatest gift we have The Good News of Jesus Christ. We welcome one another as we would welcome Jesus, a radical inclusive welcoming of all.
If we believe that God may be found in anyone at any time it may inspire us to live on the lookout for God, to be alert for God. Alertness smacks of vibrant and vital life as it is, and as it is yet to be. To be alert is to be at attention for what is and what is to be. Living alertness is the sum of appreciation and anticipation. It is to be aware, hopefully at times with no small glee, of the God of surprise, anywhere, anytime, and in anyone. Welcome!
Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, minister at Westworth United Church
Each of our churches are committed to an Affirming educational process. Westworth is entering into a two-year educational process on what it means to be Affirming. St. Andrew’s River Heights has already gone through this process and has been declared Affirming. But that doesn’t mean the educational process has finished for them. Rather, becoming Affirming means to commit to ongoing education about how we can become more Affirming—because there is always more to learn.
Affirming means to affirm people of all identities—including racial and ethnic minorities. Most recently, those of us with white-skin privilege been challenged to acknowledge our own racism as we seek to be fully welcoming of Indigenous people and people of colour. The new term is racialized people, which is a sociological description of how people treat them differently simply because of the colour of their skin—they are racialized. So what does white-skin privilege mean? Someone once told me that if I’m not sure if I have privilege because of a certain characteristic such as skin colour or economic status, then I probably am privileged in that area. When you do not have privilege, you know it very clearly. As an example, Indigenous and Black people are frequently are stopped not only by police, but also by security guards. I’ve never been stopped—unless it’s for a good a reason, like speeding or making an illegal u-turn. One Black man said that after he left the checkout one day and was exiting through the store doors, the alarms went off. A white person happened to be going through the doors at the same time, but the security guards didn’t stop the white person. They stopped him and as a result missed their opportunity to catch the shoplifter. Apparently, some shop-lifters with white-skin privilege know this bias of security guards very well and time their exit from the store with the departure of a racialized person.
Those of us with white-skin privilege need to hear these stories to realize how racialized minorities are discriminated against almost every day. So what does this have to do with churches being welcoming? At General Council a couple of years ago, a number of Black ministers began to stand and tell their stories of discrimination within the United Church. One minister described a congregant refusing the shake their hand—and that was before COVID protocol. Another black minister was called boy. A search turned down a Black woman because they weren’t ready for a woman (which is a whole other problem) and then proceeded to call a white woman. We were stunned when we heard these stories and we realized that we have a lot of work to do within the church. Rev. Paul Walfall was one of these people who told his story. He said to us that it is not enough to welcome black people to the table. They also need to be invited to help plan the meal, cook it in their way, and help decide the seating arrangements.
Welcoming newcomers of any identity means more than just ushering them through the door—or these days sending them a link to our online services. It means finding ways to include a diversity of people in the planning and delivering of ministry and of worship. It means to be open to the change that newcomers will inevitably bring. As a minister in one of the thriving churches I visited said to me, “If you are afraid of change, you are afraid of newcomers.” If we are truly welcoming of everyone who joins us virtually or in person, we must be willing to be changed. For as we receive and are transformed by them, with their ideas and passions, so we receive and are transformed by Christ Jesus.
I will close with lyrics to a song called “There is a time for silence by Gwen Reiser. The video, with powerful pictures, can be seen at https://vimeo.com/428897516?ref=fb-share&1
Let us pray,
There is a time for silence, a time to listen well.
A time to hear the painful stories others have to tell.
O God, may we who love to talk now hear the rage and fear.
And may we learn from neighbours who have long been silenced here.
There is a time for asking, a time to pause and pray.
There is a time to hear the prophets speak of God’s new day.
To hear the words of Jesus who taught welcome, truth and love.
To hear the Spirit speaking through the ones who shout, “Enough!”
There’s time for humble study, for reading and for thought
God may we learn from others of the justice they have sought.
And may we learn from those who bravely stand against the hate.
So when we’re called to justice, we, your church, won’t hesitate.
There’s time for good reflection to ponder who we’ve been.
To think how our own attitudes have paved the way for sin.
To listen to the ones we fear—to folks we may resent
To hear of Jesus’ call to love and humbly to repent.
And there’s a time to work now to boldly say their names,
To protest and to organize; to advocate for change.
To use our voices and to stand with those who are oppressed.
As we seek justice hand in hand, Lord, may your world be blessed.