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In welcoming, we need to be clear what we offer

I like espresso. I like the taste of it, the color of it and the art of creating a good one. I like the fact that it doesn’t take a long time to drink but still makes me pause to enjoy it. Within four blocks from my home, there are seven different places I can get an espresso, and they all do it a little bit differently with a different machine, a different blend and a different atmosphere.

Mike Denton - Conference Minister

Conference Comments

Although each has the same basic product, they each have a unique take on it.

Although, being Seattle, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an auto parts store that served espresso. I don’t go to a coffee shop looking for auto parts nor do I go to an auto parts store looking for espresso. If I walked up to a counter at either and asked for the other I could expect an odd look back and a reply, “We don’t have that here.”

Asking at either if they knew where I might get the other would be OK and, if they knew of something, it would be kind to suggest it but the fact they don’t have the particular product I’m looking for at that moment doesn’t mean they’re doing something wrong.

It doesn’t mean they’ve excluded me. They just don’t have what I’m looking for.

At many of our churches, Sunday morning begins with the words, “Whoever you are, wherever you are, you are welcome here.” It’s one of the best, most used phrases to be popularized by the denomination’s identity campaign more than a decade ago.

I can’t tell you how many churches or search committees I work with who state this phrase as something they think is unique to their church. There’s a lot of good compassion, hope and intent in this short phrase. It’s a beautiful ideal.

It also might be one of the more problematic phrases we use in our UCC life. I respect it as an aspirational goal, but those coming to our churches hear it as a commitment, and it’s not a commitment we’ve always committed ourselves to.

More accurately, it’s a three part commitment, and we all too frequently completely underplay what might be the most important part. The “whoever” and “wherever” both really depend on our struggling with “here.” 

“Here” is where our heart is. “Here” is the place where our mutually agreed upon vocation is discerned through the lens of our faith, our values, our traditions and study.

“Here” has boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, processes, relationships and expectations.

The welcome is meaningless unless it’s clear what we’re offering, who we are and who we think God might be calling us to be.

Our churches are not blank slates that invite everyone who walks in our doors to draw upon but communities with a pre-existing vocation that are willing to invite anyone with a similar vocation to join us. 

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that our churches need to remain monolithic, unchanging institutions. We are called to a reflective life that exposes the ways we participate in the culture of oppression and dominance, dismantling that culture within and without our churches.

As Christians, change and transformation need to be a part of our vocation. However, when we invite people into our doors without clarity about the “here” we’re welcoming them to—including naming those areas we’re falling short—we’re setting people up to feel betrayed.

We run the danger of substituting our goal of extravagant welcome with what can feel like a bait and switch. Clarity about “here” gives us the opportunity not to simply extend an extravagant welcome but a genuine one.

So, how might we do that?

I know the idea of church membership has been taking some hits over the last several years, but I think the moment of exploring membership is a great moment to further explain and be in conversation about what “here” is, and the “here” we might be able to create together.

More about that in your next issue of PNC News.


Copyright © February 2016 - Pacific Northwest Conference News


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