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Thank you, Mrs. Brown!3 months ago
“Mrs Brown made me welcome” Such a simple phrase, but referring to a transforming moment for a senior Christian leader as told when sharing her story recently.
Many years ago, a neighbouring church to the one I belonged to had a large, bright, bold sign on the noticeboard: “We are a Welcoming Church” it proclaimed. Something jarred – and it took a while to realise what the problem was: we can hope, plan, praand behave in what we believe to be a welcoming manner, but the judgement that determines whether or not we are actually welcoming belongs to the visitor, not to those offering the welcome.
In an earlier age, AD 197 in fact, when writing to the local Roman authorities defending Christian behaviour and the place of Christians within the empire, Tertullian quoted the judgement of others: “See how these Christians love one another”. This was not his own judgement, but that perceived by others observing the Christians. What he then went on to address were the consequences of Christians meeting together in worship: “We go not like troops of mischief-doers, not bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet”, describing the qualities of Christian behaviour and their impact on society.
As we emerge from lifestyle restrictions required by Covid, there will be fresh opportunities for the Church – national and local - to assess and reappraise how we demonstrate Christian characteristics within our communities, and how that may be seen by others. Currently, comments range widely – sometimes quite barbed - about churches closing their doors and pausing worship in public at a time of great social and spiritual need. It may be that we have been over-cautious or too risk-averse, leading to misjudgements, but we can admit and apologise for that. Of course, there have been positive developments too – Opportunities opened up by Zoom events; The immense value of much activity undertaken without incurring the time and environmental consequences of travel, and Offering fresh connections to those who are isolated.
Post-Covid, various aspects of life are inviting realignment, with renewed appreciation for the value and expressions of community, caring and respect, and especially for those involved in health and care professions serving in front-line situations. Within the church, what might it mean for us to reassess various things: perhaps To be more focussed on loving rather than on liturgies? On serving rather than status? Activities that respond with listening hearts rather than pursuing pre-programmed agendas?
As with any journey through unknown territory, the road ahead will not always be clear. Can we be ready to formulate fresh questions: eg. How do we discern God’s intentions and initiatives for today? Where are people on the road of faith? What signposts might help them at their stage on the journey? What are the most effective ways of offering simple but heartfelt welcomes, or genuine hospitality? And where do we do this? If we are to make more space for others, are we ready to let go of some of the unhelpful clutter from former times? Have we the humility to offer a public face which is not too self-conscious or over-managed, but humbly offering a genuine invitation to explore with us transformation of life in Christ through the Holy Spirit?
We do not know if Mrs Brown was trained or ordained, what qualifications or experiences she had, if any. We do know that whatever she did, and however she did it, she was gifted with a warm heart and welcoming manner, opening a door for a lifelong journey of following Jesus Christ to someone who in turn became a Christian leader, bringing blessed to many.