‘All are welcome in this place:’ Aspiration or reality – reflections from Swanwick

In the final Eucharist at last week’s clergy conference in Swanwick we sang a song / hymn (never quite sure I know the difference – musicians enlighten me please), by Marty Haugen called ‘Let us build a house…….’ the second stanza to each line of the verses go as follows: ‘where prophets speak,’ ‘where love is found,’ where hands will reach,’ and ‘where all are named.’ Each verse is followed by a chorus where it is proclaimed that:

‘All our welcome, all our welcome, all our welcome in this place.’ 

As we were singing the song / hymn I began to reflect on exactly what we were doing:

Were we stating a truth? Proclaiming an aspiration? Or simply singing along to a nice tune? The reality is possibly a mixture of all three. What does it really mean for all to be welcome? And, on what terms? Again, there will be huge differences in understanding and acceptance. 

I hope that I was singing the song (I have decided it is more of a song than a hymn – but, I know not why!) as an aspiration because in all honesty I don’t think that I have arrived at a place where I really, truly, stand in a place where I can say that my welcome to each and every person is truly, unconditionally, welcome.

Here, I think is the main challenge for me:

It is frequently easier for me to accept and render welcome those who outright reject my views because they do not align themselves with the faith, than those who have different theological perspectives. Often, I feel most vulnerable when I am asked to relate to those who hold faith perspectives I find hard to understand or agree with. Let’s be honest in the Church we are good at applying terms like soggy, fundamental, critical, uncritical, ritualistic, trite, unbiblical, traditionalist  (and all this before we get onto churchy terms like liberal, conservative, protestant, catholic) to each other. In church we often seek others just like ourselves: after all we can then stand in solidarity with others, against others. We have the bizarre paradox that it then becomes easier for the Christian to extend true hospitality to the atheist, agnostic and members of other religions than to our own brothers and sisters in Christ. So what is to be done? 

Well. first and foremost, the recognition that change starts with me.

Secondly, and this is a radical plea I would argue for the formal unwinding of all ‘affinity groups.’ Let’s say thank you and goodbye to (in no particular order) to Forward in Faith, The Evangelical Alliance, Affirming Catholicism, Reform and so forth. Maybe it is in foregoing groups that allow us to stand in solidarity with others just like ourselves that we will be freed to stand in solidarity with others who are not like us at all! Then we might just be really able to say, without equivocation or contingency, that ‘all are welcome, all our welcome, all our welcome in this place?’ The church would literally offer a ‘schooling in love.’And, if this chorus were to become a statement of truth the church would be in a great place! 

Just a thought or two!

p.s. one priest I really respect (my boss) suggested in our musings last week that in worship ‘we should leave the music and preaching to the evangelicals and the liturgy to the catholics. Food for thought…………

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