You may have seen on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet a welcome notice which apparently appeared at St Clements Church, Leigh-on-sea, Essex. Please read that, then come back here…
What did you think? The notice says that the church welcomes everyone, regardless of where we are up to in life or where we have come from. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus says: in God’s kingdom, all are welcome. The question is, does the church offer the same welcome?
I remember a story that Adrian Plass tells. (Adrian is a Christian writer and speaker. I’m re-telling it from memory, but the story goes something like this.) He says he was in a supermarket and saw a sign that said “This supermarket would be very pleased if customers reported any spillages to staff.” Around the next aisle he spotted a broken jar of pickle on the floor that had apparently been knocked off one of the shelves. Aha! He thought – here’s my chance to make the supermarket happy! And he duly reported the spillage. The member of staff to whom he reported the spillage looked anything but happy. They rolled their eyes wearily. “I’ll tell the manager”, they said. The manager was called and was told “This customer is complaining about a spillage in the pickle aisle.” Plass didn’t think he was complaining; he thought he was making the supermarket happy; at least, that’s what the sign said.
Adrian Plass’s point is this: the supermarket had a sign but there was no-one actually in the store to make the claim on the sign a reality. He says that church can be like that. We have a sign – from God! – that says that all are welcome. But unless the people in the church make that sign a reality, it amounts to very little.
So, the question to the church is, How good are we at making God’s welcome a reality? Not just to people like us, but to all people? We’ve all heard stories of visitors to churches being told, “You’re sitting in my pew!” Hopefully, we have got past that. We certainly need to! Unless our welcome is genuine, the church dies with us. And none of us wants that to happen.
At the time of writing, I am looking forward to my first experience of Walking Day. It’s been a bit of a struggle making it happen, to be honest. A number of people have worked very hard to make sure that the tradition continues. What is walking day? To be honest, I don’t really know as it’s my first time! But I hope it’s something to do with the church showing to the community that we are alive and well and in business. It’s about showing publically that the church is made up of all sorts of ordinary people, not hiding behind the safe confines of a church building but sharing our joy with whoever. It’s about making God’s welcome known.
In September, we have a couple of opportunities to build on that message of welcome. Both churches have their ‘Patronal Festivals’ in September – a bit like celebrating the churches’ birthdays. Holy Cross Day is on 14th September each year, and St Matthew’s Day is 21st September. We are hoping to mark those days withspecial services on the Sunday nearest – that’s 13th and 20th September respectively. At St Cross we are thinking about an open-air service on the afternoon of Sunday 13th September and at St Matthew’s we plan to use the 10:30AM All-age worship service to mark the celebration. In both cases we are inviting everyone who has a connection of any kind with the church to come and join us.
Whoever you are, I’m sure the church will make you feel welcome!