May 2011

May 1, 2011

Thoughts From The Cottage

Dear Friends

The United Reformed Church is going to be launching a ‘welcome campaign’ early in 2012 with adverts strategically placed on hoardings and in newspapers across the country. It will be emphasising the radical nature of the welcome that people can find in the church. The emphasis will be that people are accepted without needing to change. Churches will need to sign up and undergo training in order to be part of the welcome campaign and only such churches will be on the list for the referral of respondents to the campaign.

Of course we already have many welcoming churches across the country, sadly we also have unwelcoming churches. It is difficult to define what characterises a welcoming church, it is something we recognise when we experience it. Typically a welcoming church will have attractive, up to date posters and notices outside and inside the building. It will be a base for community activities during the week. The doors will be open and smiling greeters there to welcome visitors to worship. Worship will be accessible to all, no-one will be expected to know what normally happens, the service will be easy to follow and the language of readings, prayers and hymns simple. But that is not enough. Everybody has to be welcoming from noisy children to muttering pensioners. Whether someone turns up in their best dress and hat or looks as if they have come straight from the night club, if they are immaculately groomed or wearing the latest in body piercing they must still receive a genuine welcome. Gender, race, nationality, language and lifestyle should not be problems, everybody must be welcome.

But to welcome someone is not enough. The church is not a social club it is the body of Christ. If we truly love someone as Christ loves them then we will want them to meet Jesus and allow his transforming love to change them. Christianity is not just about accepting people it is about conversion, about leaving our old self behind and becoming a new person. Part of a radical welcome is a radical call to discipleship, a call to live like Jesus. Our summer Sunday evening series from to July will be picking up this theme of discipleship as we look at the letter of James.

As Christians we have committed ourselves to living like Jesus. He was radical and uncompromising in his welcome, (how many prostitutes and thieves have you had dinner with?), and in his call to discipleship. He told us that we have to care for the foreigner, the poor, the sick, the bereaved, that we have share our wealth with the poor, that we have to obey the law (and by that he was referring to the ten commandments) and that we have to ‘go to all people everywhere, make them my disciples, baptize them and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you’.

We walk a tightrope daily as we offer a genuine welcome to everyone whilst condemning sin and calling people to repentance and discipleship. Failure to do this leads to churches either becoming social clubs or narrow fundamentalist sects, we must not fall into either of these traps as we continue to be a welcoming church.