I can’t tell you how many churches I have driven past with the words “Everyone Welcome” on their sign board and my guess is, most of them mean it. They really would like to believe their church is open to everyone and that everyone would feel comfortable there. Of course, we know in reality it simply is not possible. One size does not fit all and every congregation can’t meet everyone’s needs. The church which welcomes everyone is not going to very comfortable for the person who believes there need to be more precise requirements and expectations. At the church I served in Birmingham, MI, we used to say, “We baptize anyone, we marry anyone, we bury anyone”…and we lost a few members because of it. St. Andrews wants to welcome everyone, assuming of course, that you like traditional worship. Since we can’t do everything well, we choose what we do and as soon as we do, there will be some folks who won’t be comfortable here. As I always say, that’s why they make different kinds of wallpaper and that’s why there are so many Christian churches around. But the deep, abiding value which matters most is the desire to make everyone who comes through these doors feel welcome.
In September, 28 of us spent a week at Cass Community Social Services in Detroit. Cass grew out of Cass Community United Methodist Church and is now independent and ecumenical with support from a broad base of religious and philanthropic institutions yet still maintaining a connection with its roots at Cass Church. Each Wednesday they hold “Warehouse Worship”, so named because it was originally held in the warehouse. Pastor Anne can attest to that since she preached there last year. They now meet in a new space, but it is still called “Warehouse Worship”. The bulletin for worship offers this stunning welcome:
We extend a warm welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor and knuckleheads. We extend a welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Beyonce or like your pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’ve been sprinkled, dunked or if you’re afraid to wade in the water.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet and teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome single moms, distant dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians and junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still using. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion” because we’ve all been there.
If you blew all your offering money at the casino, you’re welcome here. We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, or are here because grandma conscripted you to come.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now. We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts…and you!
Now that’s a welcome for everyone which everyone except folks who can’t deal with that kind of welcome can appreciate. End of the day, of course, the truth is we may not be able to meet everyone’s needs, but the commitment to welcome all persons in the spirit of Christ is central to what it means to be the church. The warm, faithful, sincere welcome really matters because everyone means everyone.
Ya’ll come on in now….everyone is welcome.
Jack Harnish, Author