Tom Ehrich discusses the importance of welcoming and why churches today, far too many, don’t get it. Have two personal thoughts and then his very prudent quotes.
Have relayed the church in which I was baptized, confirmed and ordained: Zion Congregational Church, corner of 9th and Fremont, Portland, Oregon, across from Irving Park. The church was founded as a German Congregational Church. Almost all the members, unless they joined by marriage, were German. And those who weren’t, had German names. So there, right?
My father was a Miller and my mother was a Schnell. Both sets of grandparents migrated to Portland, Oregon in cattle boat steerages from Nordka, Russia, along the Volga River. My Grampa Schnell was a butcher and my Grampa Miller a garbage man. Almost all of my cousins [two died at an age too early regrettably] and aunts and uncles attended the church, but most lived more than miles away.
Then it happened. Called white flight by many. The neighborhood changed, Germans didn’t move in; they moved out. Fear trumped love and any welcoming spirit. The vote to sell the building and move was held. My mother spoke her piece, saying in her words, “We should not move. We need to become a community center and help our new neighbors. They being a different color is insignificant. Good to be color blind.” The vote to get out of Dodge was overwhelming in favor.
At the time I was serving my first church in Chicago…so my letter mattered not. My mother and father voted to stay. Most of everyone had a different vote. I asked my mother, “You voted no?” She nodded, “Yes, Mark, I did. The water of my baptism is stronger than the blood of my family.” Ah, Esther Miller…never to deny her faith and welcoming spirit. To say she was indefatigable is understated.
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, never lessens their enthusiasm, no matter their venue, to be to all, a welcoming spirit of extravagant hospitality, “no matter who you are, you are welcomed with us.”
However, no one can deny that church membership is not hale and hearty. Atrophy rules the day. And I would wager not because of death or disgust [after all when members get upset they vote with their checkbook and their feet.], but because church…well, I lean to Tom now, for his take makes sense…unfortunately:
Among the many losses that crippled the Christian enterprise from the start was the loss of this welcoming. To build their franchise, early church leaders made lifeless icons of those disciples. They elevated Jesus beyond reach. They imposed standards of perfection. They routinized what had been spontaneous.
It would have been so much better if they had celebrated Jesus as he was, and the disciples in the frightened but brave willingness of their going forth. For that is where God and the Gospel connect with us: not in attaining perfection, but in rising above our frailty and giving God our best, creating a community of the flawed but willing.
In that way, grace, not perfection, can be our mark.
June 26, 2017