the last Parochial Church Council meeting we considered a request which had come in to us via our Facebook page to install
some bicycle brackets to the church hall. This came from someone who had taken part in a sponsored cycle ride years ago when
fundraising was in full swing to build the St Martin’s Community Hall. The members of the PCC took little convincing
that it is an easy practical thing to do, and not hugely expensive – we considered ways to proceed with this and hopefully,
in the not-too-distant future, some brackets will appear.
Along with suggestion of the brackets was another suggestion: that we
mount a sign which says ‘cyclists welcome’. This suggestion then formed part of a sermon I preached the following
Sunday about inclusion. I have no problems with welcoming cyclists – but the Church of God is welcoming of all people.
To erect a sign identifying cyclists as welcome begs the question: what other ‘welcome’ signs might we erect?
And the answer would be ... a very long list! For no-one is not welcome in God’s house, for God welcomes everyone.
there are times when the churches have been very bad at conveying this message. Churches can sometimes appear to be clubs
for like-minded people rather than places of worship for all; places where all God’s people might find a place for themselves
and a welcome. If any welcome sign should be erected then it must be totally inclusive. Many years ago, when I first became
an incumbent and was preparing to chair my first Annual Parochial Church Meeting, a saintly lady in the parish, Joyce Pink,
gave me a piece of paper on which she’d written out some prayers which she thought I might find useful. I still have
that paper, 18 years on, and although I don’t use them all at every APCM, I always look at them and pray them personally
beforehand. One prayer reads:
O Lord, make the door of this house wide enough to receive
all who need human love and fellowship;
Narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.
its threshold smooth enough
to be no stumbling-block to children,
nor to straying feet,
but rugged and strong enough to turn
back the Tempter’s power.
God, make the door of this
house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom.
It was written in the late seventeenth century by Bishop Thomas Ken –
and a quick search on the internet reveals that there are many churches up and down the country which use the prayer on their
websites, in their church buildings and as part of their mission statements.
As members of God’s Church we
need to reflect upon what it means for all to be welcome – and how our words - spoken and written - and actions (or
inaction) can speak loudly of how seriously we take this inclusivity. I’ve often said I find the phrase ‘welcome
to our church’ very uncomfortable and unhelpful, as it suggests an ‘us and them’ mentality. Now, we can
easily slip into saying such sentences without noticing that it can sound exclusive to some ears – especially if, in
our hearts, we are inclusive of all people. But newcomers or visitors can’t immediately see into our hearts. Our language
says something – not just about us but also about the God we claim to worship: it’s important that we are reflective
Last year, the Archbishops or York and Canterbury wrote about the need in our churches for ‘a radical
new Christian inclusion’. They said:
‘People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception,
are loved and called in Christ ... we need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole church, not excluding
anyone – to move forward with confidence. The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common
humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion’
The above was part of a longer letter written after a difficult debate in the Church’s General Synod
Meeting about a new Bishops’ report on human sexuality. But it is a universal Christian principle that all are loved
by God, and all are called to know his redemption and fullness of life. We need to reflect regularly upon whether our life
together at St Martin’s, and our attitudes, written and spoken and modelled in our life together and individually, all
convey this message. Like the image of God the Father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15)
, we need to be a church that holds out its arms in welcome and joy to receive those who come to us, whoever they are, whatever
they have or haven’t done. We need to remember that being righteous doesn’t come from our perfect living but from
God’s perfect love.
In 1994 a new hymn appeared in church hymn books entitled All are Welcome, by Marty
Haugen. Sadly, it isn’t included in our current hymn book (although we have sung it at a number of ecumenical services
at All Saints’ Church). It has a vision for the radical Christian inclusion the Archbishops speak about and I’m
hoping we will use it at our Dedication Festival Eucharist on 28th October.
are very welcome at St Martin’s. As are non-cyclists. And everyone else.
May our life together, in the words
of the Archbishops’ letter, be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; ... of our belonging to Christ.