The Minister’s Mind: Radical Welcome

The poet, T.S. Elliot, in his long poem, “The Rock,” asks:

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this City?”
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other?” or “This is community?”

I’ve always loved this question and I’ve long hoped that the answer is even more radical. Not just “This is community,” but “This is community, and we are so glad you’re here. Come in.”

People often ask me about being a minister. The questions are always polite, but I hear the incredulity under the surface. What people are often really asking is, “Why?! Why, of all things, would you become a minister?” Some people’s “why” comes from an understanding that ministry is a tough job. But I think most people ask “why” because they are pretty sure that religion is old, boring, irrelevant, or even dangerous. They wonder why someone would still be interested in that and even more, would give their life and career to it. I understand the question.

There is often a disconnect, even for me, between what religious community (“church”) is and what it could be. Too often churches are more like social clubs where we can hang out with “like-minded” people. (Which really means people who look and think just like us.) But when I read T.S. Elliot’s question, I want to answer “YES!–we love each other, we are community and even more than that, we are a community that welcomes all people. We gather because we want to make the world a better place, starting with ourselves. As the old hymn says, ‘Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.'”

This month our focus at Tree of Life is “Welcome.” This is a chance for us to enlarge our welcome–to throw open the doors of the sanctuary and the doors of our heart. It’s a chance to welcome not just each other, but to welcome strangers, newcomers, seekers, skeptics, and the fullness of our own whole selves. We are a community, we love each other–but we can’t stop there. Our doors, arms, and hearts need to be thrown wide open. We need to BE that kind of welcome.

Why? Because it is our purpose. Each week we remind ourselves of this by reciting together these words:

We journey as a family toward:
Spiritual growth
Freedom in faith
Celebration of diversity
Commitment to action
Devotion to each other, the community
And the Earth

We have committed ourselves to building a community where all are welcome, and where we welcome all of ourselves and each other. We have committed ourselves to growth, freedom, diversity, action, and devotion.  That is not something we can do alone. It’s not even something we can do with just the people we already know. It’s not something we can do staying comfortable and doing things the way we’ve always done them. Our purpose–is something we can only do by becoming a place of radical welcome.

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