Are we all welcome at Church?
I’ve walked into many churches in different continents, different states and different denominations.
But it was only recently that I sat paralysed in church not by the transforming Holy Spirit but by fear of what a group of people were preaching. It takes a lot for one of God’s children to feel like a stranger in God’s house but that’s what they managed to do.
It wasn’t to do with how they viewed people from other backgrounds and ethnicities, that is a separate issue. It was how the theology they were preaching went against everything I held of value, went against my experiences and worldview. It was as if the world had moved on and yet this congregation stood transfixed unchanged and separate from society.
I must say this, it was fascinating walking out of my own echo chamber and knocking on the door to another. Who was right? I couldn’t tell you. Since the Bible was written, we have been trying to interpret the words into the world in which we live in. People have wielded the words transcribed in the holy book to spread hurt, to discriminate, to start wars and to justify the way we treat others whether good or bad.
Let’s get it straight, my faith and my relationship with God is unshakeable. I am however wary when people start pulling out bible verses and commanding me to live a certain way without question or understanding because if I don’t I will, “go to Hell”. Looking through history that approach has hurt and continues to hurt those around us.
Language is so important. A sign outside could say ‘All Welcome’ but really what does that mean?
Does that mean all welcome to be judged by the people sitting in the pews? Because I can get that for free on social media. Does it mean welcome to only people who look and think similarly? Because if that’s the case then the sign should include a disclaimer. I heard the line, “Love everyone but not the sin” many times, this is all well and good but most people seem forget how to love. We all have fallen short here from time to time, I know I have.
How do we walk together how do we understand what Christ calls us to do?
We could talk to hours and hours about how church attendance has declined and how it’s just a changed society. Yes society has changed, we have been given the space to question more. We choose to walk with Jesus compared to years ago when we were forced to sit through sermons. Before we even continue the conversation of how we need more youth or more bums on seats, we need to be able to articulate our faith and God’s word.
If we read the bible word for word ignoring the time in which it was written and the different meaning of each of the words, then we are only receiving half the message. It’s not about “watering down the word” or picking and choosing bible verses that confirm our own biases.
American Christian author, Rachel Held Evans, told Relevant Magazine that there is a benefit to reading the Bible with others.
“I reject the notion that the Bible was to be consumed individualistically,” said Evans.
“It makes a lot more sense to be engaged in a community that challenges you to think about it differently.
“You’re going to read the story of Ruth differently if you read it alongside a woman who’s been widowed. Particularly a widow in a developing country where that affects your status so significantly.”
No one is saying engaging with the Bible is easy. However, if as Christians we can’t respectively talk to each other about our different understandings of faith, then we can forget trying to share that faith with the wider society.
Let’s step down from our own pedestals. Let’s converse, let’s challenge each other and in the process gain a deeper sense of Christ in our lives and finally I hope you never feel like a stranger in God’s house.
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Closure of Ministry for Rev. Karen Mitchell-LambertSat, 4th Mar 2023