All Saints Staplehurst has just become the 28th church to register as Welcoming and Open Congregation and the first in the diocese of Canterbury.
A member of the congregation who blogs at http://majiigi.blogspot.com/2009/03/welcome.html greets the news with a Hurrah!
The initial difficulty the Church Council had in accepting the proposal “was neither theological or political, but not wanting to really face the issue; a bit distasteful perhaps. Of course we’re welcoming, but we really don’t want to be talking about this sexuality stuff, do we – I mean, are we going to pass a resolution saying we’ll welcome heterosexuals?”“But even more powerful was a story of the exclusion from a church of a Lesbian couple known to one of the council members and another’s hope that her gay friends would find a welcome here. Personal experience through someone you know seems the most vital ingredient in changing exclusive attitudes.”They considered question: How ready are we to open ourselves to the experience of people unlike ourselves; to try and suspend the point of view we have embraced through our experience of life and see through another’s eyes and consider their experiences, their perspective?
“When we walk through the church door not even thinking about our right to be here and the welcome we will receive, it may be hard to realise that some people will be very worried indeed. However, this conscious opening of ourselves to a very different other is an attitude, a journey, that needs long and continuous nurturing. To do it we need to seek out new information; listen to stories, and then listen to our own, often defensive or bewildered, reactions as they challenge our previous assumptions.
“This cannot be done in one or two PCC meetings; only in trusting relationships as we journey together in the family of God. But my impression of the family of God in our church is that one thing it is good at is welcoming people and accepting them, even when there might be questions, incomprehension or even private disapproval of the way they live. And such a welcome, of course, gives the opportunity for a greater understanding to emerge. And so it proved to be; they supported the proposal.”
The experience at All Saints should encourage other congregations to take the next step to register as a Welcoming and Open congregation. Risk introducing the possibility to your PCC and encourage them to discuss the possibility as openly as possible, trying to see through the eyes of another person, someone who feels excluded by the church.
Information about Welcoming and Open Congregations and a list of the current churches registered can be found on the Changing Attitude web site.