Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13:8 (NIV)
I just finished mandatory racial justice training for my standing as a UCC minister. I’m glad this is required. Many of the (mostly white) clergy in the Zoom room were in their 70s and even 80s. We all, even the people closer to my age, talked about being raised with the idea of “tolerance” as the gold standard. But who wants to be merely tolerated? All of us want to be loved, affirmed, and fully included in the larger group—as equals.
The idea of “welcome” came up in our conversations—how even the innocuous idea of welcoming people to church betrays a curious sense of ownership. The welcomer is the host, keeps the keys, and makes the rules. The welcomed is welcomed conditionally, and that welcome can be rescinded at any time.
What do we owe one another, particularly the visitor arriving to the sacred spaces we steward? Especially when they are arriving exhausted, depressed, bullied, left-out, lonely—or just different from the majority congregation in some way, visible or invisible?
We owe one another nothing short of love.
Here’s what it can look like. One time I visited City of Refuge UCC on a Sunday morning. I don’t remember what they said at the beginning of their service, but I do remember that Bishop Yvette Flunder approached me at some point, put her hands on my shoulders, looked in my eyes, and said, “You’re home.” That’s quite different from “Welcome.”
God, until I go all the way home to you, make me someone who invites others home, wherever I find myself, in church or outside of it.
Rev. Molly Baskette is the lead pastor of First Church Berkeley UCC and the author of books about church renewal, parenting, spiritual growth and more. Sign up for her author newsletter or get information about her newest book at mollybaskette.com.