Tending to a spiritual center: Belonging

The last supper by John Coburn, from www.asianchristianart.org

The last supper by John Coburn, from www.asianchristianart.org

What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches (Luke 13:18-19).
Seeding parables are often about seeding and harvest, stories of ‘bringing in the sheaves.’ The little parable of the mustard seed is about another facet of the dream of God for the world. The birds nesting in the tree is a picture of ‘being at home’, of belonging. I would take a moment to reflect on the spiritual center of ‘belonging’ in our faith communities.
As I make the rounds of the synod, I see, from time to time a Welcome Statement in the Sunday bulletin. They remind me of the welcome statement that we developed (based, in part, on other statements from around the church) in my last parish at Our Savior’s, Regina.
If you are Aboriginal, Asian, Black or White;
If you are Male or Female;
If you are one day old or one hundred years old;
You are welcome here at Our Savior’s.
If you have physical, mental, emotional or spiritual struggles;
If you are financially stable or are barely making ends meet;
If you are single, married, widowed, divorced, partnered, straight or gay;
You are welcome here at Our Savior’s.
If you are Anglican, Buddhist, Catholic, Deist, Evangelical. . .or a life-long Lutheran;
If you are someone who has or once had deep roots in a faith community;
If you are someone who has deep reservations about the church;
You are welcome here at Our Savior’s.
We seek to be a radically loving community of faith,
Grounded and guided in Jesus Christ.
We pray that you may experience the Spirit of Jesus among us.
Peace be with you all!

Over the years that the statement appeared in the Sunday bulletin, I was surprised by the number of individuals who commented on the welcome statement. “I am a divorced person, and there were times when I wondered if I was welcome in the church.” “I continue to struggle with mental illness; it is so important to know I am valued here.” “My marriage fell apart a few months ago and I’m still not sure what my life will look like; I need a community that will accept me.”

What was so important about the welcome statement? Was the welcome statement a statement of the achievement of the community? No. As a faith community we would still struggle as a community and individually with our own usually unconscious judgments based on Male or Female, Black or White, Conservative or Liberal. At some level we also had a deep destructive habit of naming the Righteous and the Sinner, those who made the grade and were ‘in’, those who did not make the grade, and were ‘out’. Sometimes we would apply that judgment to Others, sometimes, often with great severity, to Ourselves. No the welcome statement was not an achievement to display, but a goal to be desired. Perhaps that is what made it so important.
Of course, the welcome statement is but one of many ways that a faith community might address the spiritual need of belonging. The main purpose of a pastoral or congregational visit has never been the consumer goal of ‘filling the seats’ or ‘receiving a contribution’; it is to say, “You are valued by this community of Jesus.” “You belong.” Youth ministry, Sunday school, the worship service, the congregational pot-luck have more than one purpose, no doubt, but they are deeply related to a faith community desiring to be a place where we say and enact: “You belong.” “You are important here.”
I would invite you to take some time as people of faith, and as faith communities to consider how we have in the past and how we might in the future address this spiritual need of people we encounter on the journey. To be a people and a place where the ‘birds of the air’ can find a place to belong.
Bishop Sid

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