“The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” What Good News this is to the world! Perhaps you’ve seen this message on a website, or newsletter, or you may even come from a church that posts these words on an outdoor sign. It is a wonderful message to the world because it not only expresses that in the Episcopal Church you will find a community where you will be safe, loved and appreciated, it is a tangible way to embody our baptismal covenant of “seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of every human being.” This powerful message shares with the world that the Episcopal Church is a welcoming community that embraces people from all walks of life.
For the past eight months I have had the privilege of serving as the Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and during this time I have seen firsthand how the power of the Church radically welcoming others can transform a person’s life. I have also witnessed the incredible gifts and blessings that manifest when communities truly live into the belief of welcoming all, even if their neighbor doesn’t look like them, worship like them, or speak like them. People who have been rejected because of their race, ethnicity, the language they speak, their gender, who they choose to love, or their disabilities have found in the Episcopal Church a community that tells them they are children of God and are loved unconditionally.
At the same time, I have come face to face with how we as the Episcopal Church are challenged by trying to live up to this promise that we make to the world. It requires a commitment from each of us of really loving others as we love ourselves. Buildings, liturgy, music, and how we worship are so important and sacred to how we live our lives as Christians and because of this they are often held near and dear to our hearts. This can sometimes mean that they get confused as being “the Church.” Communities of faith, while they claim to be welcoming and inclusive, can sometimes be rigid and closed off because they lose sight of the fact that “the Church” or “the Body of Christ” has always and will always be the people. Jesus challenges us to recognize that those same people who may sound, look, and think differently from us are our siblings through Christ, and the Body of Christ won’t be complete without them. Truly welcoming them may require the worshiping community to change, to adapt, to incorporate, to learn something new, to invest money and resources.
When we say, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes you,” we are making a commitment to God and to our community to be different from those places in our society that are too afraid to change. We are saying that we value all of God’s children and we will work to include those who are different from us. When we make this commitment and actively work to include those who are not yet at God’s table the Church is a much closer reflection of the Kingdom of God. We become a Church that is much greater than the one we were before because we are blessed with new faces, new ideas, new voices and new perspectives. The only question that remains is, are we willing to do the work that is required of us to become a church that lives into this belief that all are welcomed here? No worries, we are not alone. We have Christ who can do infinitely more than we can hope or imagine and we have each other. Together we can overcome anything.