I’ve never been one for “all are welcome” signs. When I see one, usually on a church building, I jokingly ask if anyone found the asterisk indicating who exactly is welcome and who, or what parts of ourselves, are being asked to be left behind.
As a queer woman I know a lot about false welcomes, particularly when it comes to the Church. A few years ago, my wife and I were told that we were not welcome to become members of our local congregation because of our “lifestyle practices”. We were, however, welcomed to attend and were even asked if we would consider leading the feeding program. We respectfully declined and didn’t attend any church for over two years.
We were frustrated.
We were hurt.
We were not welcomed.
False welcomes are not a form of hospitality.
Often, as communities, we put asterisks on the way we welcome the stranger. Far too often we only welcome people who look, think, and act like us. People are welcomed if they refrain from disrupting the status quo, sharing too much of themselves, and challenging the oppressive actions and thinking of communities and intuitions.
When people are not welcomed to communities as their full, unapologetic selves, we cause suffering because we limit who people are.
When people are not welcomed to communities as their full, unapologetic selves, we fail to see the imago dei in which they are created.
When people are not welcomed to communities as their full, unapologetic selves, whole communities suffer because we lose the gifts and joys of authenticity, and vulnerability.
The church is not a place of welcoming, but of belonging.
I have often struggled with this idea of “welcoming” because it puts people in ownership of things that should not be owned, like Churches or communities of people. When I welcome someone into my home I make the rules for their visit. They are welcomed in my home if they, for example, take off their shoes (or as in my house, dote on my beloved dog). I often set the menu, have expectations for behavior, and know the exact time I expect my guest to leave (usually by 9 pm). I am allowed to make these rules because I am in a place of ownership over my space.
However, the Church is not owned by one person or one community, but rather by God. It is not a place that people are welcomed into. There shouldn’t be rules for the visit. There should be no expectation of how someone might act, when they can come, or even when they need leave.
The Church is a place of belonging. It is a place were we remind all people that they are beloved children of God and therefore belong in this space: who they are, as they are, right now.
As the Festival Center prepares to reopen our space on March 10th, I hope that you are not welcomed into our space, but rather know that you belong here. We need you here. We want to learn from you, grow with you, celebrate with you, and fight for justice alongside you.
There will be no welcome sign. This is a space of belonging, and you belong here.