Stories-especially true stories-speak well to the relevance of the Scripture for our time. Last year, a priest in Delaware refused a child the opportunity to make his first communion. The reason? The child has cerebral palsy. The priest said the boy could not possibly understand the meaning of the Holy Eucharist. His parents were devastated.
The Rev. Nancy J. Lane, an Episcopal priest from the Diocese of Central New York believes wholeheartedly in Jesus’ commitment to the healing of body and soul. In 1983 she established a ministry to educate congregations to be more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities. Mother Lane has cerebral palsy.
Henderson Brome, an African-American man was arrested in Milton, Massachusetts, in 1990 as he did his daily three-mile walk one morning. He was handcuffed near his home after a police officer took him for a suspect who had been spotted breaking into a car. The description they got was of a “tall, thin, black male,” but it was not this man. The Boston Globe later reported the incident along with these remarks by the man who was arrested: “I never resisted. I never did anything. I tried to tell them I was an Episcopal priest. I tried to tell him I lived on the street. He didn’t even ask who I was. He wasn’t interested. All he saw was a black man.” He is the rector of St. Cyprian’s Church, Roxbury...
Stories of hospitality, expanding the table; stories of exclusion and building prison walls. Mother Lane, the priest who lives with cerebral palsy, writes “Healing happens when we are welcomed, included, and our gifts received because we are part of the body of Christ. As I traveled around the country I discovered enormous suffering in people with and without disabilities.
And in a a forum on the Dream of Radical Welcome Stephanie Spellers, Minister of Radical Welcoming at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, said in part
Welcome is bold yet tasteful signage outside. Welcome is nametags for members and newcomers when they walk inside. Welcome is that warm greeting at the doorway, and an attractive and compelling set of materials for newcomers. It is a friendly member who scoots over to make room for a stranger in the pew. It is another intentional member who leans over to help the person struggling to find their way through the liturgy.
Welcome is really good coffee and irresistible munchies in the Undercroft. It is also a follow-up call from a clergy person or a lay visitor. It is an invitation to join a small group and journey together.
We need welcome. The church is dead without welcome. So do check to see if you're welcoming and commit to providing that inviting space. But please don't stop there, because that is not yet radical welcome.
Radical welcome kicks welcome to the next level. It asks, Who would never even come to the door, because they are so sure we will not receive them, and because, historically, we have not?
It asks, how do we make sure that people on the margins know as soon as they walk in that things have changed in here? How do we make it crystal clear that we are making room for their voices, their presence, their power, at the heart of our life together?
From the unwelcoming priest who refused communion to a person with cerebral palsy to the radical welcome of asking who isn't even coming because they don't feel they will be received. The idea of radical welcome reminds me of Chris Duncan's funeral, held at King of Peace on February 12, 2005. I pray the sermon was both radically welcoming and grace-filled in a time of pain and loss.
That day we welcomed a congregation of 400 hurting people into our sanctuary. As Chris Duncan was high school aged, the congregation included many teens who would not usually attend our church. Many of those there are among the ones who don't feel they would be received because of their clothes, their piercings, their tattoos...We really didn't mind. We really were glad they came. We really didn't judge.
How do we show others that they are in fact already welcomed...radically?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor + King of Peace Episcopal Church