Friday, February 16, 2007

A welcome in the pews?

Making people welcome at church is seen as part of Christianity 101; it's so basic, you hardly feel the need to remind people that it matters. Yet, of course, all the surveys of why people leave church agree that top of the list of factors causing people's attendance to drop off is that they found churches feel pretty unwelcoming places.

This is not new. We're working our way through Acts at the moment. And as well as discovering just how theologically and sociologically central the sharing of possessions and pooling of resources was to the early Christians - you can imagine how popular that is round here(!) - I also notice that making people feel welcome was high up the list of qualities the early Christians had to learn - just like us.

In Acts 9 we read the familiar story of the calling of Saul to be apostle to the gentiles. Less familiar in this chapter is just how much of a struggle it was for Paul to find acceptance in the Christian community in both Damascus and Jerusalem. Not for these believers the crowing over gaining such a high profile scalp. No, Paul was about as welcome as barbecued ribs at a Bar Mitvah.

Ananias told the Lord what Paul had done - as if God didn't know(!) - which should have been sufficient to change God's mind about welcoming into his people. The apostles preached a gospel of life transforming good news through the cross of Christ, but weren't sure its life-changing properties were any match for the sins of the arch persecutor.

Doesn't this sound familiar? We're told to avoid people whose lifestyles are dodgy because they might corrupt us; we find it hard to welcome those who are being drawn to our churches through social ministries because their lifestyles are iffy, their personal habits questionable and their pasts dark and dirty.

So, do we believe the gospel changes people's lives? Do we believe it is good news for everyone? Do we, therefore, believe, that we should be putting out the red carpet for everyone, regardless of their background or body odour, who crosses our threshold?

Is that Osama Bin Laden crossing the car park?

Oh... and I've discovered John Meyer. It appears that five million Americans aren't wrong (hard to believe, I know). His album, Continuum, is an hour of mellow, funky, bluesy grooves and intelligent writing. He even does a cover of Hendrix's Bold as Love that is truly magnificent. There's sermons aplenty in Waiting on the World to change, the album's turbo-charged opener, and Belief, a soulful and coruscating attack on the war on terror and the religious culture wars in the States. But why preach, just listen and chat afterwards...

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