Some congregations have begun to open their services with an extra prayer of welcome for all who are present and a commitment to open doors for all who desire to enter. I like it. It’s a nice gesture, but I wonder if that’s all it is. What I mean is that it’s an easy thing to voice words of welcome for those who are not really wanted.
The idea of welcoming the other is one thing. Actually wanting to discover the neighbor in those who are not like us is another altogether. At bottom, it is mostly a matter of race, ethnicity, language, economic and social class, and customs. We are more comfortable welcoming others who look like us, speak like us, have similar life styles to ours, and who are familiar with our ways of worship. Other than that we are very open minded and certainly not prejudiced.
Yet there is something even more subtle at work, and I have no doubt that you have experienced it. I know I have. Consider a time you were invited but not wanted. It might have been to a party. Maybe a meal. Possibly to be on a pickup team. I know you remember the peculiar feeling of recognizing that the invitation was authentic, but your presence was not really wanted. The invitation to you was an obligation that had to be honored. There was no real warmth to it.
We do that in our congregations all the time, and it goes beyond the self proclaimed ownership of certain pews. Not too many years ago, many of our parishes made efforts to welcome the rapidly growing Hispanic population into our services and worship. The occasional prayer was offered in Spanish. Sometimes the gospel lesson would be read in both English and Spanish. Spanish language prayer books were piled on a table in the back near the ushers. They certainly were not distributed in the pew racks. The signal was clear. You are welcome but not wanted. It works both ways. My wife, who speaks Spanish, attended the Spanish language mass at the local R.C church one Sunday. It was a very uncomfortable experience for her. She was obviously welcomed, but not wanted.
How different the Christ whom we follow. The gospel record is clear. Jesus welcomed and wanted the full, authentic friendship of all who came to him. Even when he was invited, but probably not wanted, to dinners with Pharisees and others, he seemed to turn the tables to become the host rather than the guest. How do we move more in that direction? I don’t think it’s easy. In our own minds, welcoming the other tends to be framed as the superior welcoming the inferior, and that does not work. In our own minds, being the other is to feel our place as the inferior receiving the charitable but obligated largess of the superior. That does not work either.
We say that the way around this is to seek and serve Christ in the other and to be the Christ for the other. Easy to say. Hard to do. Perhaps you have some helpful ideas. I’d love to hear them.
3 thoughts on “Welcome but not Wanted”
I think that we have all had the uneasy experience of being invited somewhere by someone just to realize, once there, that we were not really wanted. And there was no graceful way of withdrawing quietly but quickly! About this in churches: Once I had several friends in the Greek Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City. All of them were of ethnic Greek heritage, but one, Harry Anstall. Harry was a medical doctor who was an Englishman. He had become Greek Orthodox after being first Anglican, then Roman Catholic, searching for an elusive True Early Christianity. But there was a problem. The Greeks did not really accept him. To them, as one of them said frankly to me, the Greek Orthodox Church was an ethnic social club. Harry was an alien presence. Finally Harry left Greek Orthodoxy, where he was unwelcome, and felt it! I don't know where he went. Anglicanism, he once said, was just a \”hodgepodge of mutually conflicting heresies\”, so I doubt that he returned there, his true birthright \”ethnic heritage\”! Dr B
Very good and very important post CP.The last three parish communities I left, I made a point of letting the rector know I was leaving, the last two with the specific reasons.Though I sometimes miss group worship, I doubt seriously I will ever darken a church door again. I wish there were a way for the Christian Church to really want all of God's children, but the conditionality built into the group dynamic, I think prevents it. This is a double edged sword, The Phelps Clan? Mormon Theology, Prosperity Gospel, all part of the same story? Traditions of and current requirements of shunning in some congregations. The primacy of \”biblical\” literacy in others. I have become what one friend has accused me of being, an atheist, but not in that I don't believe in God, no, I have become one because I don't believe in their god. Indeed the hardest part of this journey has been the giving up of the god of my youth with all it's privilege and pomp, to accept the God who is the God of all those who are denied him by his followers.All from being welcomed but not wanted, or rather wanted only if I make myself to be what the congregation want.
A beautiful post and as always I enjoy hearing from your commenters. I might say that sometimes I agree with you, with them, with none of you. Today, it's a rather mixed bag re the commenters whether to nod and say, yes, I agree or to nod and say yes, I agree – BUT – I don't agree in leaving God because I can't agree with the smallness of other human beings' limited understanding of God. I believe that is the reason I must stay. It's important that God be represented by those who truly see God as larger than anything, anyplace, any any ever known. A Godde that still loves us even when we think She is teeny…..xoxo