Are All Welcome?

The church I service, like a lot of churches, has a big sign on the front lawn that says ‘All Are Welcome‘. It is my hope that that is a true statement. I think it is, I want it to be. I want ALL people to really feel welcomed at Sackville Baptist.

One of the qualities that drew me to this church was the way they genuinely welcomed children into the sanctuary. The first Sunday I was there, months before I began the canadating process, the Sunday School Coordinator was upfront giving an announcement. Her two children were with her being goofy and half draped over the pulpit. That made me think, ‘These people love having children here, I think I could find a place here.’

For the past few weeks we have been on vacation. I have really enjoyed going to other churches for a visit. It is nice sitting their with no role and no responsibility. Our first two experiences were wonderful, the last one took a very sour turn. We discovered there was at least one exception to the ‘All Are Welcome’ sIgn for at least one person in the church that day.

For one lady the church sign really said, ‘All Are Welcome, EXCEPT Those With Noisy Babies’

welcome (1)

Photo Credit- The Naked Pastor David Hayward, you can click on this image to see more of his thought provoking work.

While we sat in the service Asher, our six month old son, become hungry which means he became more vocal. He wasn’t full on screaming but he was giving the pastor a run for his money.Since there was at least 30 minutes left in the service Meghan decided to scoot out to feed him. Instead of being back in the five or some minutes I was expecting they didn’t return at all. When Meghan and I found each other after service I could tell she was clearly upset. 

While Meghan and Asher were heading out the door an older lady pointed and wagged her finger at them telling Meghan not to come back because the baby was being ‘too loud’. When Meghan told me this I was pretty upset. It isn’t just rude it is downright unchristlike.

We spoke with the pastors and appreciated their response and their explanations. A number of people even made the point to talk with Meghan after the service to let her know that we were welcome noisy baby and all.

But the truth remains the message we heard mostly loudly was ‘you are NOT welcome here’.

Since then I have been thinking about my own church, my own home and my own ways of expressing faith. Are there ways that I am saying with a metaphoric waggled finger ‘Do not come back, you are not welcome’? I hope not. I really do want to welcome ALL people.

Jesus loved the unlovable, he welcomed the unwelcomed, he gathered the outcasts. And he told us to go and do the same. We are commanded to mean it when we say, ‘ALL Are Welcome’.

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20 thoughts on “Are All Welcome?

  1. I think in order for churches to be successful (as I type that I don’t really know what it means!) you have to open your doors sincerely and genuinely to all. The young families are the future! I am so lucky that my church encourages that. Our pastor has said more than once that he will buy a better sound system if the congregation gets too loud for him to be heard. That’s the way it should be.

  2. Christopher, do you want to know what “all are welcome” truly means. Take a look at this website for an the Anglican Parish of Gosford here in New South Wales (NSW), Australia http://www.anggos.com.au/

    Gosford is about an hour’s drive north of Sydney and is the largest city on what we call the Central Coast (that’s the Central Coast region of NSW). I don’t know if you have seen the signs they have been putting out but when you click on the link you will see them.

    Some of their signs have been going viral. Some of them have been going viral around the whole world.

    I found out about them recently and have their Facebook page in my collection of pages that I follow. On a few occasions when they started making national headlines, Atheists like me were having comments of praise on their status updates removed if we mentioned that we were Atheists. I can sort of understand that, but they were preaching acceptance of all so it grated me a little.

    Recently they had a status update that had about a dozen people writing “as an Atheist I enjoy following you” and words to that effect. And these comments were getting heap of likes. No, I got that wrong; the comments were getting HEAPS of likes (that’s better) and so I too pledged my support to them and said that as an Atheist I find them to be something I do want to follow.

    When your homepage states;

    “We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

    We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail.

    You know that this Church truly IS welcoming. And they DO accept crying babies.

    To me there is two things that a church can do; they can teach you about the Bible and the writings in it (which I am sure you would appreciate that is where religion is a problem for me) and they can preach goodwill.

    Goodwill is what I believe the Man they call Jesus is all about.

    Think about this. If Jesus was standing up at the pulpit about to give a sermon and there was a crying baby, he might stop what he is saying to the congregation, but that woman who was ruse to your wife might be surprised to find out why He would do that.

    Jesus would stop and ask of the baby is okay.

    Jesus would stop if the baby was too loud and He had something very important to say and didn’t want His message to not be heard. He wouldn’t just raise His voice, he wouldn’t roll his eyes and suggest that the mother leave and not come back, He might suggest that they take a break for a moment whilst the baby is looked after, but He would want to make sure that the needs of this baby are looked into because THAT is what He is all about.

    Unless as an outsider (although keep in mind that I was brought up in a Christian country that has scripture even in our public schools) I have missed the point of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus, I think that most Christians DO NOT in fact follow Jesus the way He would want them to.

    On many occasions I have stated that I like Jesus. I joked recently that both he and I have/had long hair, a beard, and we both enjoy a drop of red now and then (although I have never claimed it to be my blood, except that time when I was at a work conference in the wine capital of Australia and ended up drinking almost 2 bottles of red by myself in which case I am pretty sure there was more red wine in my veins than red blood). But I digress.

    We are heading up to Newcastle on Sunday to meet my wife’s sister’s new baby. They have just had their third daughter and we can’t wait to meet her. Newcastle is just over 2 hours north of Sydney so a further hour or so north of Gosford. There’s a motorway that extends from the north of the greater Sydney area leading up to Newcastle and there’s a turn off to Gosford which puts us out of our way for a while.

    I tell you this as I am seriously looking at getting up real early and taking the family to church to see what they are offering for myself. It will be a cold day in the non-existing place you call Hell that I will ever believe in the myths that religious dogma is based on, but when you consider that the place you call Heaven is actually right here on Earth (according to the high priestess Belinda Carlisle), we need to make this place more like the great cloud city so many people picture Heaven to be rather than the cloud city of The Empire Strikes Back that our Heaven on Earth actually is.

    This is not finished Christopher, but it is almost 7am in Sydney and our little one has just woken up so I want to go and spend some time with him before I go to work and as I am away interstate for 3 nights starting tonight, I need to make sure he has an abundance of cuddles to last him until I return.

    • This is quite the reply and for it to not be finished, wow. I am looking forward to the rest. Thank you for the information about Gosford I had seen some of the church signs on Facebook but I was not sure from where. They have a great statement of welcome worth living up to.

  3. When I was a kid we went to the United Church in Waverly (my father and I were both baptized there at the same time actually). It was a small church but we felt very welcomed. I was in the children’s choir, Sunday school and often did readings in front of the congregation. I remember adults there actually speaking to me. Not like most adults speak to kids but actually caring what my response was. I felt very much a part of a community.

    Until a new Minister came and it was decided a larger church was needed. Suddenly everything became about committees to raise funds to build a new church. Not just a larger one but a state of the art one. I come from very humble beginnings, we barely had enough to contribute to the collection plate every Sunday and now all of a sudden we’re being pressured to contribute large sums to a fancy new church. Suddenly we weren’t spoken to as often, until we weren’t spoken to at all.

    It was made very clear that they were trading up to a higher class and we were simply not good enough. We were no longer welcome based on our economic status. We stopped going to church after that.

    • Holly that breaks my heart to read this, I didn’t know this had been your experience. While it is too late in coming on behalf of my faith I apologize.

      I am wrestling right now with how to be loving,welcoming and accepting to those the church have not traditionally been good at loving, welcoming and accepting. But Christian teaching is so clear on how to treat people when it comes to their socioeconomic status and it is not the way your were treated. I am very sorry.

      If you ever get the itch to drop in again, our church is still small and friendly. I tell people we are like a little country church conveniently located in the suburbs.

      • Christopher, our current Prime Minister (who might not be as of this coming Saturday night), was questioned last night on a national show called Q&A about his flip-flopping over decisions he makes based on his faith. The person who questioned him was a Christian Minister in the audience. I want to share something with you but I want to do it in private. I will send you a message on your contacts page.

      • As Logan gets older you may see us a time or two. I am somewhat struggling with how to teach him about faith. As you know I am an atheist, but just as I don’t want anyone pushing their faith on him I don’t want to push my lack of faith on him either. I truly want it to be his decision.

        My plan right now (though as you know in parenting plans can change) is to teach him about the many different faiths and let him experience any that I can. I will learn along with him.

        I do miss that sense of community though I no longer hold the same beliefs. I am sure that you do a better job than our new Minister did. How welcomed anyone in the congregation feels really does depend on the Pastor (Minister, Priest etc); and knowing you as long as I have, I have no doubt in my mind that everyone who passes through the doors at Sackville Baptist feels that they belong.

    • I find that to be a very sad story Holly. There are Pentecostal churches going up all over Australia and some are becoming world leaders in the way they preach and run their organisation. And, it is all about the money. It is about wealth creation. It is about networking. One of my old bosses is a Christian and he was told during one of his business study classes that if he joined this church and became an active member it would be worth his while to connect to others in the church who are in business. We won a project with the church itself for a decorative product that we normally get screwed down in price for on everyday supplies in our standard colour and finish, but they requested a bronze anodised finish which is 3.5 times as expensive and they thought nothing of it. We invoiced the job at around $70,000 we we could have done the job for $30,000 (if they went with our top price) or as little as $20,000 if they behaved like other businesses and screwed us down. But they are all about excess so they don’t care about how much things cost.

      Look, they do some great charity work and spend millions on programs to help people, but that extra $40,000 to $50,000 they spent with us could have helped people.

      When he was there (he only lasted at this church for just over 6 months) he witnessed church organisers and volunteers pulling people aside to talk to them about their weight and also the way they dressed. This church doesn’t ask for formal clothes, there’s no Sunday best that needs to be worn, but the expect people to dress in fashionable clothing and to look fit.

      I guess when you think about it, Jesus is always portrayed with killer abs and when he’s dressed in his robes, they always look schmick, there’s no tattered clothing for Him when he was out preaching.

      The church should not be about money. Jesus despised it from what I know of Him.

      Again though, I am an outsider so maybe I’ve got it all wrong.

      • I agree. I too am an Atheist and make no claim at being an expert on organized religion but the impression I get from many churches, though certainly not all, is that it is yet another social ladder to use and climb. I know that is certainly not what it was intended to be but in this society of excess no institution has been left unscathed.

      • Jesus told us to sell all of our we had and follow him. We have come very far from that ideal. Now there are ‘pastors’ who tell you if only you give them X amount of dollars all of your dreams of wealth and fame will come true.

  4. Maybe this is the first step for people walking away. If you want people to stay in the fold you must not do ridiculous things like supporting child abusers (as Australia’s Arch Bishop does) or wasting money like the Pentecostal church does. Once you make them question the church’s own morals, it opens the doors for people to start questioning everything.

    As one who does not believe I want both things to stop (to some degree). But I want to work in with religious leaders and get them to help me win the battle I am trying to win; keeping families together, more acceptance for fathers in modern society, and for men to step up when they become fathers.

    Unfortunately, God was not the last Father to forsaken his child/ren…

    • I think it is wonderful when we can work with people of different faith and moral persuasions to achieve real good in the community. I appreciate your desire to see father’s both more accountable and more accepted.

  5. When we push out the children, we forget about how much they can teach us Christians. Jesus loved the children. They were so precious to Him. Although I do like sending my kids to nursery so year *I* may participate more in the service, I do not worry too much about having crying babies or noisy kids in services. Worship should never just be about ME and it should never just be about THAT Lady. I am so sorry that ever happened.

    • I agree wholeheartedly Laura. I take to heart the teaching of Jesus that faith is something that children model well and can be our instructors. When children are seen as a burden rather than a blessing the church is moving in a very dangerous and likely fatal direction.

  6. Great discussions … I witnessed a similar experience as a Pastor. I had been doing some counselling with a couple (M&K). M had two kids from a previous marriage, K had spent time in prison. M came to church a few times, and was warmly welcomed. The church rallied around her, and loved on her and her kids in such an awesome way. The first time K came to church, conversations stopped. He wore a t-shirt and jeans, he has tattoos up and down his arms, and no one talked to him. At Coffee after the service, I and one of my elders were the only ones who sat and talked with him. 5 Days earlier K had taken the first step into discipleship, and his first experience as a believer in church was also his last. I was wholly disappointed with my congregation that day. M&K are no longer together, K no longer considers himself a follower, and we no longer have a sign out front that says ALL WELCOME.

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