Saturday, 4 February 2012

Too many expectations

Reflecting on my first year in Harlow, one of the things that has been a recurring theme has been the perception that those who don't go to church have of those of us who do.

From the person who had never been to church in their 80 years and wondering if they would be able to come into a service, were they the sort of person who would be welcome? Then there are the ones who thought they had to be a better person than they were and those who were not good enough to go to church because surely their lifestyle would not be appreciated? Then there have been folks who I have talked to as I prepared their family for a funeral who had long since had no connection with church but wondered if they would be welcome. They think the church folk will have too many expectations of them and they would be unable to meet them.

Too often the view that those who don't come to church have of us is that we are exclusive, good folks who welcome those who are like us and so behave as we do - heaven forbid! From my own experiences of church folk they are just as capable of fighting with each other, suffering addictions, anger, relationship issues as anyone else.

Perhaps the real issue is the way in which we in the church project our image sometimes exclusive, distant, disconnected from our communities. As I read the web page of a new church which a friend of mine is pastoring I came across the word again that sums up what we should be - Incarnational!

We are called to engage as Jesus did with everyone, not condemning but challenging, not judging but setting an example, we are called to be part of our community and in so doing we will project a positive, inclusive image of Christ's Church. Jesus tells us his burden is light and Peter tells us that burdens (anxieties, loads, problems) can be laid at Christ's feet. As Isaiah reminds us all are called to be refreshed and transformed by God, all are welcome.

Incarnational means we are meant to be in among the community not keeping ourselves apart from it showing the love of Christ, and showing that it is for all people with no exceptions - all are welcome to be part of the Church. When folks know that they are welcome and feel a sense of belonging, they may start the journey to believing and eventually to working out how that needs to affect their lives.