If you came to my church, you’d see the banner out front with the silhouette of the Holy Family escaping to Egypt, with the words over it, “Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.” You’d come in either beneath the rainbow-colored flag out front, or through the garden with the Peace Pole and the prayer “May peace prevail on earth” in eight languages, or from the back parking lot, where you’d get a good look at the solar panels on the roof. If you use a wheelchair or walker, every door would be accessible to you.
If you came to my church, you’d be welcomed by at least three people, and that welcome would be reinforced by the statement printed at the bottom of the service program: “We are an Open and Affirming, Green Justice Congregation of the United Church of Christ. We welcome to our work and worship all people of faith, or in search of faith, without regard to age, race, economic condition, disability, or sexual orientation, and we seek to care and advocate for the earth and its creatures.”
If you came to my church, you might not know the first song or hymn we sing, but you could join in with the three-year-old who loves to stay in worship with one of her two moms and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” at the top of her lungs, while the rest of us are singing whatever we’re singing. Our children are taught and encouraged to ask questions, to wonder why or how, and to accept that sometimes “I don’t know—I wonder that too” will be the answer.
If you came to my church, you’d have an opportunity to think back over your week (or longer), to see how or whether you’ve wandered from your True Self, whether you’ve contributed to the world’s sorrow, or just your neighbor’s, or just your own. Some churches call this a “confession of sin,” but we think of it as telling the truth about how we’ve been separated or alienated from God and our true selves, knowing that we are all “made in the image of God,” as the story in Genesis says, and that we can be better. The pastor reminds us of who we are and Whose we are, and we give thanks for the opportunity to begin again.
Our children are taught and encouraged to ask questions, to wonder why or how, and to accept that sometimes “I don’t know—I wonder that too” will be the answer.
If you came to my church, you’d hear a couple of passages read from the Bible, and then you’d hear a sermon that would draw on the latest in Biblical scholarship and commentaries, as well as contemporary writers like Brené Brown or Anne Lamott. The pastor might talk about something she’d read in a Facebook post or the New York Times. You’d hear her questions about the text and be invited to bring your own questions. You wouldn’t have to simply believe or accept literally what the Bible passages say, but you’d be given ways to understand their context and setting, and you’d explore how our understandings may have evolved and been given new images and metaphors for the Divine Reality. You’d come to know Jesus as a “Human Being fully alive,” which is how the second-century bishop Irenaeus described “the glory of God,” and you’d be invited to come fully alive too. Just as Jesus’ parables were meant to challenge and invite, you’d be invited to keep letting this story or that passage work on you during the week.
If you came to my church, you wouldn’t have to say the Creed, because, although we affirm the creeds of the church as snapshots of understanding and belief through the centuries, we believe that God is still speaking—in words, in events, through people, in nature. “Never put a period where God has placed a comma,” as Gracie Allen said.
If you came to my church, you’d hear these words every week: “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” And you’d be invited to join the rest of the congregation at the end of the service, saying our commission, which reminds us how we are to be when we leave that place: Go forth into the world in peace. Be of good courage. Hold fast to that which is good. Render to no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you came to my church, you just might have to rethink your impression of who you thought Christians were and what “going to church” is all about. And you’d be welcome.