I’ve been reflecting on the statement “All are welcome” ever since I read through the Inclusion/Reconciling Survey people filled out at the beginning of January. Several people (8 people, to be exact) said something similar to this one person’s comment: “I’m not in favor of labeling people. Just say all are welcome.”
When I first read that statement, I thought, “Yah. That makes a lot of sense. Why would we want to single any group or groups out in our welcoming statement? Why not just say all are welcome?”
Recently I talked with my friend Jia Starr Brown. Jia has been serving as the associate pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. She is a gifted preacher, a kind and caring woman, an attentive mother and a lesbian woman who came out to her congregation in July 2019. In August of 2019, two members of her congregation filed complaints against her for violating the Book of Discipline which states, “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church (UMC).”
The bishop worked long and hard at reconciliation between Rev. Brown and the two complainants, and eventually dismissed the complaint.
When I heard what was happening at Park Avenue UMC, I went to their website and on their homepage, the first thing you see are the words ALL ARE WELCOME. While their website says that all are welcome, at least two members of that congregation didn’t believe that “all” meant “all.”
I have also, personally, thought that a long list of who is welcome is a dangerous road to go down, because you’re always going to miss someone that you forgot to welcome, but didn’t know that they needed a special welcome. I also, as someone who cares about being succinct and clear, thought a long list was unnecessary. But I have learned that being clear about who is welcome is important. Is the list incomplete? Yes. Can we improve? Always. But for this time and this place, this is our statement: “All are welcome—people of all ages, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities—to fully participate in all aspects of our hometown church with a global connection.”
You are invited to come to worship on Sunday, March 29 and stay following the service to vote on this new revised statement of inclusion. It’s not perfect but it’s the best we have for this time and place.