“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu
One single step…It seems so easy, yet is often the most difficult step of all…the first. For me, this is true on any journey. If I can just take the first step, the others feel natural and more free, not easy but unhindered. I think of what it must take for someone to take a step into a house of worship for the first time. I consider what that might feel like…what it smells like…how it either welcomes or rejects…and how the people at the worship service feel about a stranger entering the doors.
As “church people” we would never think that strangers are a problem…visitors are welcome, we say. We put on our signs that all are welcome. Sometimes, there is coffee and maybe even pastries. There may be banners and welcome packs. A kind greeter may approach you at the door. A bulletin could provide some guidance as to what will happen. From the moment a stranger pulls in the parking lot, we try to make it inviting… Yet, if we are really honest with ourselves, all too often, what we really mean when we proclaim ‘All are Welcome’ is that we welcome the stranger that looks like us…that believes like us…that votes like us…that smells like us…that lives like us… In other words, we want to worship with us. And there is a built-in dynamic in a church that has a bunch of “us” already in it.
When we worship the same, believe the same, vote the same, talk the same, dress the same…anyone that is outside of that throws off the dynamic…brings an air of change and no one likes change…especially not in church. “We’ve done it like this since…” So, we essentially tell the stranger…you are welcome IF… and that if is a big one. It is likely that if the stranger is not like us, we will want the stranger to conform to become just like us. I mean…we set the standard…right?! It is, after all, OUR church…right?! Essentially…we don’t actually mean ALL are welcome…at least not as you are…unless…
The first step is always difficult. I have had the opportunity to walk into many houses of worship in my life…different denominations, different towns, different faiths. I grew up in church and I know “the rules” and in many cases, I was “one of them” as I entered. Yet, the first step was difficult. I am naturally an introvert, so it takes a lot for me to step into a church I have never been. I remember one occasion I was out of town and decided to go to a church of a denomination of which I was familiar. The church was full…everyone was nice…but then the pastor did it…he pointed out the visitors and had us stand up and tell where we were from… This sounds exciting to some people…I am a minister (no one knew that there) and I should have been comfortable (I completely was not)…That made my first step even worse. I didn’t want to be called out in front of a church full of people…and I was ‘like’ everyone else.
I write this to just point out that I AM like those that were in the church and YET I was uncomfortable… What about those that are ‘strangers’ – those that are different – REALLY DIFFERENT? Are they welcome too?
Feel free to leave comments on this blog and share it with others…as a reminder, any form of hate will be eliminated. This is the first step in searching and trying to figure this all out… What does a church look like that really does mean…ALL are welcome? Travel this journey with me…YOU ARE WELCOME (and NO, I don’t care what you believe, what you look like, how much you make or how you vote)