Our church folk are very fond of saying, “All Welcome”, at the end of each announcement publicising some event that is happening in the life of the church. From the inside the church seems a patently open organisation. We like to think that anyone can attend our church services and activities. But I was reminded recently that this is not necessarily how it looks from the outside.
I was arranging a baptism for a child. The young couple had not been to church since childhood and asked, “Are we able to attend a couple of services before the baptism?” They clearly thought it was a “Members only” sort of place.
With this in mind, and inspired by a welcome sign that first appeared in Coventry Cathedral, we went through a little exercise in church the other week, unpacking what we mean when we say, “All are welcome”. This is what we came up with.
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, or confused. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rake, or could afford to lose a few kilos.
We welcome you if you can sing solos in the choir or can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Elsie’s baptism or uncle Bob’s funeral. We don’t care about your past. We would like to be part of your future.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast, and ten-year olds who are cranky at being dragged here by their parents.
We welcome netball mums, beer-bellied dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organised religion”. We’ve been there too.
We welcome you if you just blew into town in the last five minutes, have a weekender in the bush or if you are fifth generation original settler stock. If you are a seasonal worker, a backpacker or a grey nomad you are welcome. You are welcome whether you are from the Toorak part of our town, the caravan park, slept in your car at the wayside stop or are homeless. We are all looking for our true home.
If you’re filthy rich, dirt poor, or if you blew all your offering money on the pokies, you’re welcome here.
We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or came because Grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome you if you are wearing gumboots cos you just finished milking the cows. We welcome you if your hands are grimy from fixing the ute, plunging the wine, or weeding the veggie garden. If you’d rather be out on the tractor spraying, sowing or harvesting, but have come out of loyalty, under sufferance or because you know that in the long run it won’t make much difference, you are welcome (and you are welcome to rush off after the service!)
A special welcome if you are a welded-on member of another Christian denomination and/or a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist or an Atheist – we are all seekers for truth.
We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, had a fight with one of the previous ministers or got lost and wound up here by mistake.
We welcome believers, seekers and doubters … and you!
All are welcome!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister