Sunday, May 27, 2018

Is Your Place of Worship (Really) Welcoming?

Welcome sign at Thamesville United Church.

“I'd like to comment on your column regarding the topic of loneliness among seniors and the church,” began an e-mail I received last month.

The writer, a senior herself, lives in Steinbach. A widow, she has found churches to be very unwelcoming places for older, single people.

“I find myself marginalized,” she wrote. “The church certainly isn't a part of the solution, it is by and large the problem. Families organize themselves and their significant others. It would be the extreme exception for a family to embrace a senior that wasn't their grandmother.”

Although the writer has been widowed for over 25 years, she has received few invitations to the homes of others from people who are members of churches.

“The Bible teaches that Christians are to look out for widows, but I doubt very much if it is ever mentioned in churches,” she says.

Non-church-going people, on the other hand, “are much more inclusive of outsiders,” in her experience.

As a result, she doesn’t see church as a solution to the growing number of lonely people in Canada today, including many seniors.

“Quite the opposite,” she said. “I think they will feel more lonely there.”

Of course, this is just one person’s experience—it doesn’t stand for the whole. But I suspect her situation isn’t unique.

It would be a rare place of worship that didn’t say they are welcoming of anyone and everyone—I randomly checked the websites of half a dozen churches, a synagogue and a mosque here in Winnipeg, and all had the word “welcome” on the home page.

But is that how people experience them? Is everyone really welcome? Or are those just words they say?

About the same time I received the e-mail from the lonely senior, I was in Ontario on a speaking tour. When I came to the Thamesville United Church in Fullarton, I found an interesting sign in the foyer.

The sign said this:

All are welcome here. But, we extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, confused, filthy rich, comfortable or dirt poor.

We extend a special welcome to wailing babies and excited toddlers.

We welcome you if you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself.

You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up or just out of prison.

We don’t care if you’re more Christian than Mother Teresa, or haven’t been in church since Christmas 1977.

We welcome those who are over 60 but not yet grown up, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.

We welcome keep-fit moms, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters.

We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down in the dumps, or if you don’t like “organized religion.” (We’re not keen on it, either.)

We welcome those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here just because mom or grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both are neither.

We offer a prayer to those who could use a special prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throats as kids, or got lost on their way to a cottage and ended up here by mistake.

We welcome pilgrims, tourist, seekers, doubters, young, old—and you!

A bit of research revealed that the sign is not unique to that church; it can be found, with different words and localizations, on the websites of many churches in England, the U.S. and Canada. Some also include it in their bulletins and orders of worship.

Nobody seems to know where it originated; the earliest mention appears to be around 2012 in a church in Colorado. 

But the where and when of the sign doesn’t matter. What matters is how neatly it sums up what “welcome” could really mean—if places of worship really want to mean what they say.

From the May 26, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment