Stella’s Inclusive Church Sermon

I’m going to talk both generally and personally about inclusivity today – generally because there are some general principles and personally because we all perceive our lives and faith through our own, personal eyes.

So, to start personally, about 18 months ago I had not heard of Inclusive Church. I then came across an ‘Inclusive Church’ day being held at a church near Basingstoke and included it in a news bulletin for another diocese for whom I had recently started working. There was a complaint and the reason lay in the Inclusive Church statement of belief. “We believe in Inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

The complaint went to the powers that be and it was upheld. No mention of Inclusive Church please. The reason was the mention of sexuality.

I felt I needed to find out more and look more deeply into what Inclusive Church did and that is one of the reasons why this sermon series has taken place and why we are thinking of joining Inclusive Church. We had Dianna Gwilliams, Dean of Guildford Cathedral and chair of trustees of Inclusive Church, to speak in the parish last month and she said that Inclusive Church encourages churches to look at who isn’t coming to the church and why. Is it because they are going elsewhere? That’s fine. We don’t want to take people from other churches. Is it because the signs are difficult to read if you have learning difficulties, is it because you are concerned that your children are too noisy, is it because you are worried you can’t put money into the collection plate, is it because you don’t feel welcome because of who you are?

Early in the series, Lesley challenged us at St Mark’s to think about times when we had felt excluded. We got into groups and I started talking about a group of people whom I knew from the local school who didn’t really want to come to church because of what I perceived to be social and economic reasons and how could we overcome this. A bit later I realised that I was talking about ‘them and us’, rather than about ‘us’. My very language – and attitude – was being exclusive. After all, we are all the body of Christ. It’s not a case of ‘us’ being a body and ‘them’ being another body. We are the body.

There are a series of books about the different groups that Inclusive Church is trying to be open to and in one of them – about poverty – it is suggested that just as if one part of your body is hurting you do not go ‘oh poor you’ but you give a yelp of pain, so if one part of the body of Christ is hurting then the whole body is affected.

So, if anyone is excluded whether unwittingly or – at times – deliberately, then the whole church is hurt. And I am not getting far with inclusion if I say ‘them’ rather than ‘us’.

So, what do we do?

We talk, we share, we listen. Again, in the book on poverty there was an example of a project – called ‘Listen Up’ – which had people acting as both interviewers and interviewees, so that they really shared and heard each other which helped everyone see things from other people’s perspectives, helped them do what Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

In doing this we will learn, we will be vulnerable and we will make mistakes. But we can acknowledge mistakes and move on. We can share more of our humanity if we are vulnerable.

So again, I am going to share something personal. My elder son is gay. That’s fine – and he gave me permission to speak about this, in fact saying that he wants people to know as much homophobia comes, he believes, from hiding when someone does not define themselves as straight.

He has felt, I believe, welcome in this parish, but he told me last week that he knows few gay people who wouldn’t come to church because of the prejudice, because of the damaging experiences they have had. He said that church, on the whole, does not feel like a safe place for a gay person and that having a safe space – a place where you can be yourself without fear – is vital.

What? Even in this parish? Aren’t we inclusive? Probably more so on some issues but not on others. I was really upset by the idea that many LGBT+ people would not want to come into a church, however inclusive it might be trying to be, because of past history. Maybe I should have known that. I wasn’t seeing the world through my son’s eyes, walking in his skin. What else don’t I realise? Who else feels like this? We can’t all know. I, for instance, don’t know a lot about disability or issues raised by ethnicity. I speak from my own pretty privileged background. I can only ask, we can only ask, and share and be prepared to be vulnerable. It may mean that others come forward and speak from their own experience, or feel able to come into the church, make their voices heard, become leaders.

And we will get it wrong. I may be getting some of this wrong. But I, we, will learn.

The other thing is that we can ask for forgiveness and ask for grace – God’s grace. Because this is the difference. What I have been saying in many ways could apply to a secular organisation but there is a difference. As the Inclusive Church statement of belief says: “We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ” – and Jesus Christ in his time on earth broke down barriers, was inclusive, welcomed the outsider, never cared what someone’s status was, never asked if Peter was educated or from a privileged economic background before telling him to ‘build my church’, never asked about sexuality –  and, the statement continues  believes in a church which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

These things can be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes us being open and determined – conduits of the Holy Spirit.

Stella Wiseman

 

 

Good Disagreement

I may have blogged on this before, but we have just spent the weekend at Greenbelt, and one of the talks which attended was about this, and what it might mean.  For me the most interesting comment was that it depends on context.  The example given was that in academia it is good to talk with people who disagree with you, because the aim is a deeper understanding; whereas in politics the aim is to “do” something.  If what we are aiming at is deeper understanding then listening to people with differing views to our own is helpful.  If, however, we are trying to “do” something, and there are differing views on what to do (and in churches these can be strongly held and vastly differing) then reaching good disagreement is much harder.

Lesley and I were talking about this, and she said that in the latter circumstance there is research (a quick Google couldn’t find it) that says that people have a greater desire to be heard than to “win”, and that to get good disagreement on issues like that requires a good process which allows everyone to be heard.  I don’t disagree with that, but I am not sure that it leads to good disagreement when both preferences are held very strongly.

For me, this shed some light on the problems that the church is currently having – are we trying to deepen our understanding, or are we trying to do something?  The fact that we have such strong disagreements suggests to me that we are trying to do something. Perhaps we should be aiming for deeper understanding – although as an organisation we have to do things.

 

Is it hard labour?

This morning Lesley and I listened to Pray as You Go; it was about the labourers in the vineyard.  Afterwards when we talked about it we both took issue with it!

Now, we know that parables only carry one message – and that traditionally this is interpreted as a message about acceptance into God’s Kingdom regardless of the time we have been committed; but the behaviour of those who are there early really struck us – why would they be complaining?  Surely living in the Kingdom now is about life in all its fulness?

I recall a bishop once saying if it isn’t fun why not give up and do something else?

Perhaps not fun, but if faith isn’t fulfilling why continue?  If you are miserable about your faith now, do you really want the reward of living that way for all eternity?

Lesley Shatwell’s Inclusive Church Sermon

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there was a church.  A nice, pretty church, St Exaltus The Great in the nice pretty village of Higher Exclusive.  Look, the parishioners are gathering for their Sunday morning service.  The surrounding lanes are chock-a-block as every neat and nice family wants to show off their expensive car on a Sunday morning.

But what’s this?  How unpleasant!  What a dreadful sight!  They have to walk past a beggar (with his dirty dog on an old piece of string) who is sitting in the church gateway.  How dare he, the cheek of it.  “Don’t worry,” reassures Mr We’ll-have-none-of-that, the churchwarden, “I’ve called the police – they will move him along.”

Inside St Exaltus The Great, everyone is singing sweetly, “All things bright and beautiful … The rich man in his castle the poor man at the gate, God made them high and lowly, each one to their estate …”

But what’s this commotion at the door?  Who’s that trying to get in?  She’s upsetting Mrs Keep-that-child-quiet and Mrs Don’t-sit-there of the Welcoming Committee – well there’s a turn up for the books!  A big black woman trying to get into St Exaltus The Great!  Here in Higher Exclusive!  We don’t see those sort of people in this village.  Some of the stronger men step forward, we can’t have her disrupting our service, she’s got rainbow coloured hair, for goodness sake!

“Let me in!  I know I am a sinner but I want to praise God for making me as I am, I want to come to God, I am a child of God!”

“She’s as mad as a hatter!  Got no business upsetting The Welcoming Committee.  Look at her in that shoddy, flimsy dress – she looks like a street-walker.”

“Wait a minute …” Mrs Nosey-parker is looking more carefully at the woman, “ … I know that one.  You’d never guess that her real name is STANLEY!  Yes, she was a boy when she was born.”

That’s too much for Gloria as she is now, not Stanley any more.  She runs from the church in tears.

“Now vicar, where were we … oh I know, let’s share the peace.”

 

The next week, all the lanes are blocked with the posh cars, there’s no beggar in the gate and no sign of the dog, just a uniformed local bobby greeting the parishioners as they arrive.  All seems well.  But there is a stranger in church.  A smartly dressed, elderly woman sitting quietly praying near the back of the church.  Mrs Get-everyone-on-the-rota has already spotted her:  she looks like she might be good at flower arranging.  The choir sings and the vicar walks in, “Good morning and welcome one and all!”

“There was no welcome for my son last week was there.”  What’s this?  The smartly dressed old lady is walking down the aisle toward the vicar.  She turns at the chancel step to face the congregation.  “Yes, my son who was sitting with his dog at the church gate.  You all pushed past him.”

“Come on, sit down now, don’t cause a scene, we want to get on with the service, we’ll talk about it afterwards …”

But the old lady was having none of it.  “What about my daughter Gloria?  You were very cruel to her.  How do you think she felt?”

The people looked at the little old lady, clean, neat and white – how could she be the mother of the tramp at the gate and the woman who was born a man and black?  Mrs Don’t -sit-there was already regretting that she had given the woman a hymn book.  The vicar stepped forward, he knew his scripture, “’Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?’  Jeremiah 7:9-10”

 

The woman smiled, “Who are the ones needing our Lord’s forgiveness and mercy?  Do you remember in our reading today when the woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter and she will not take no for the final answer?  I have come to your church today to remind you that all are welcome in God’s house … even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.  And we are all human beings: ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’  Just because these people are not like you, they think differently, they dress differently, they have less money than you, they may do outrageous things and scare you … are they any less the children of our same heavenly father?”

 

Let’s close the window onto St Exaltus The Great and come back to St Mark’s here today.

 

I would be ashamed to call myself Christian if I went to a church like St Exaltus The Great.  This is God’s house and we are only passing through.  Everyone is passing through and everyone is equally as entitled to be here as we are.  We are the current custodians of our church in this community and we have the God-given task to extend God’s welcome to all.

I love St Mark’s precisely because we don’t have The Welcoming Committee of Mrs Don’t-sit-there and Mrs Keep-that-child-quiet.

 

Finally, let me remind you of the words we speak at each baptism:  “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism: by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.  We welcome you into the fellowship of faith; we are children of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you.”

And let us pray that all find welcome in our church today and always.

Do you live on the extremes?

Last night Lesley and I played bridge again.  These days (it is rather a long time since I last played) the results and lots of analysis are available online almost immediately.  One of the things that we noticed was that we had quite a lot of hands where we did very well, but also quite a lot where we did very badly.

This set me thinking, is it better to do that, or to do middlingly?

This of course translates into life.  I am fairly phlegmatic, and as a student one of my friends pitied me because unlike him I would not experience the highs and lows in the same way.

Then there is the question of how this converts into ones faith life.

Well, what else would you expect me to say other than we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made“, and we need to live our life the way God has made us.

As for the bridge…. the jury is out – but we are investigating more!

Letter to the Romans

A Study Group is offered by John Innes on the Letter of Paul to the Romans. No prior knowledge is assumed; but some of you may have heard sections of the letter read on Sundays. The suggestion is to have a series of three, then a gap and if another topic is welcomed than another series of three. If anyone is interested, please let me know which dates would be possible. Ring John on 01252-734597. Possible dates: Sept 5, 12, 19 or 6,13, 20 or 7, 14, 21.

John Innes

Continue reading Letter to the Romans

Safeguarding

Most people will be aware of the safeguarding problems that the national church has had.  To help address this, and to help ensure that children and vulnerable adults are kept safe the national church has created new safeguarding procedures, which the Diocese and the Parish have adopted.  The Parish is now in the process of implementing these new procedures.

As a result of this we will be:

  • Drawing up a list of all church activities, together with leaders and assistants.
  • Circulating a “know your safeguarding role” to all people working with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Asking all people working with children or vulnerable adults to sign the new confidential declaration form.
  • Implementing the “Safe Recruitment” procedures for people taking on new roles.
  • Creating risk assessments for all church activities.
  • Working with regular hall bookers to ensure that they have adequate safeguarding procedures and public liability insurance.

It will take us some time to do this, but we have no choice, both because this is best practice, and because we wish to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults using our services (in the wider sense) or our buildings.

Alan Crawley

How do we know what God is calling us to?

Have you ever felt certain that God was calling you to do something, so you do it, even though you cannot see why you should do it, but it doesn’t lead to the outcome that you expected?

Looking back can you then see why God called you to do it?

There are plenty of people in the Bible who were called to do things for which they could see no reason, or which they didn’t want to do – particularly the latter – but who with hindsight we can see needed to do what they did.  Jonah, Jeremiah, Amos.

I suspect that the picture above is meant to be interpreted as joy at being picked, but I think it can also be interpreted as anger!

 

What is our reaction when we feel that God is calling us to something?  And if we don’t think it is the right thing to do, can we trust God enough to do it without concerning ourselves with what we think the consequences might be?

What is transferable?

Last night I was speaking with someone who has just changed their job, and they were talking about their new role, and the things that they were learning.  Much as with yesterdays post, where I learnt from a new experience, it struck me that when we do something new, in any sphere of life, it can at the very least illuminate something about our faith journey and service.

Looking back over my life I find it amazing how many of the things that I learnt in industry are applicable (perhaps with adaptation) in the church.

I was once told a story of how someone was introduced to the Bishop as “our head sidesman (sic)”, when in his day job he was CEO of a reasonable sized company.

God does not just work with us in church, but in the whole of our lives.  We can take things that we learn outside the church and use them to the benefit of the church and vice versa.  (We can also take the church into work – but that is a different post).

What skills have you developed outside the church that you can bring in?  And what have you learnt inside the church that you can take out?

Welcome – for who?

Lesley and I have decided to start playing bridge and have been to a couple of local clubs to see about joining.  You may wonder why I am writing about this, but it is because of our different experience of welcome in the two clubs – and the insights that that has given us about welcome in church.

To be fair to the two clubs I suspect that they have a different emphasis – one is focused on the playing of bridge, and the other is more social.  I am not saying that one is right and one is wrong – rather questioning who it is for.  If you know how to play bridge, what to do when you get there and your main concern is to turn up, play your bridge, focusing on the game, and go home then one club is better for you; if you want to chat a little as well as play bridge then perhaps the other.

That translates quite well to church – there are churches for the afficionados; places where those in the know can go and focus on what they want to focus on, but where newcomers can feel a bit lost.  Then there are churches where perhaps the service is a little more flexible, but where newcomers can feel more included.

There is a place for both, and indeed I believe that Willow Creek hold mid week services for the leadership, with Sunday services being focused on newcomers.

The challenge is what kind of church are we, and what kind of church are you?