Friday, January 09, 2009

Radical Welcome in the ELCA

Cap'n Bill here: Har-r-r-r Mateys! What say ye to the new emphasis in the ELCA, "Radical Welcome"? Haven't heard of it yet? You will. Check this out. This book by an activist Episcopal priest has its own blog on the ELCA web site: Radical Welcome Blog . And it be hosted by the priestess herself! Today's sample?

Friday, January 9, 2009

A thought for January: Radical welcome -- a risk worth taking!
From the outset of Radical Welcome, I tried to make clear that this ministry is risky, but that the risk is worth it.If we seek to truly welcome the gifts, power and presence of The Other, and even to note who The Other is, then there will be changes, and you might not initially like them. Changes in how we have imagined church, changes in how we do church, changes in who holds power in church, on and on. But they're worth it. Because we make these changes hoping that the one who has come to our churches and experienced a closed door -- closed to their presence, but also closed to their cultural experience or to their generational perspective -- will finally experience openness. Think of it as the "wideness of God's mercy."That's why I shared my own story of feeling welcomed at the Episcopal Cathedral in New York City and some Episcopal and Lutheran churches, and my experience of frankly feeling less than welcomed in other churches. Because I hope we can all get in touch with the joy of experiencing and sharing God's welcome and the pain of seeing lack of welcome ... and that once we know those emotions, we will feel compelled to go through the changes necessary to make sure no one feels anything less than welcomed in our congregations and ministries.I wonder: When have you felt welcomed in a congregation or ministry -- like your gifts and your voice, your contribution and your culture, your perspective and your power were all welcome at the table? Has that ever happened in a space where it really surprised you (THEY actually want to hear from ME? How wonderful!)?What did it feel like? What got stirred inside you? What happened as a result?I wonder again: And when have you felt unwelcome -- that there wasn't room for your voice, for your hopes, for your culture, for your perspective? Think about church, but also about the many spheres in which you move or have moved: school, family, work, etc. What did it feel like to be held at the margins, or told to leave some part of yourself (your class, your culture, your race, your gender, your sexuality) on the fringe? What did it cost you? What got shut down in you?May God bless us with the grace to heal wounds and welcome where we least expect it ... whatever the cost.

Rev. Stephanie Spellers

Well , we certainly wouldn't want to be leaving our sexuality out, would we?

Here she is hosting a web board with the Women of the ELCA (WELCA).

WELCA be rolling out a every-member book study. I can't tell you how bad this is. This book is as "intentional" as can be. It means to brainwash every last member in the ELCA to go beyond tolerance, beyond inclusion, beyonf incorporation of the gay agenda: Radical Welcome means to incarnate gayness into the fiber of the ELCA being.

What does it say about the book on the ELCA web site? Nothing about what makes this so radical, not a word about gay liberation theology. But what will the book clubs in the church basement be reading about? How about "conversion of the congregation." "Transformation." Or we could call it what it is, brainwashing.

Hey, don't take my word for it. Read an outside source, Faithfully Liberal blog.

Radical Welcome — A Review
By Pastor Bob Cornwall

Stephanie Spellers, Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of Transformation. New York: Church Publishing, 2006. xi + 180 pages.

Every church wants to be known as the “friendly church” or the “welcoming church,” even if they are neither friendly nor welcoming. Many a time a person has entered the doors of a congregation to find the welcome mat withdrawn or at least absent. Even churches that seek to live out their slogan of friendliness and welcome can fall short of expectations. Stephanie Spellers, an African-American woman Episcopal priest offers churches that seek to be truly welcoming an important resource and a strong challenge. It is a challenge to become more than an inviting and inclusive community faith to become one that is “radically welcoming.”

Radical Welcome is, according to our author, a spiritual practice. It’s not merely a means to an end; it is a fundamental aspect of being Christian and church. Radical Welcome “combines the universal Christian ministry of welcome and hospitality with a clear awareness of power and patters of inclusion and exclusion” (p. 11). In the course of writing this small book Spellers emphasizes the issue of power, or more specifically the willingness to cede power in the process of creating a space where “the Other” might find a home. It is an attempt to create a space for mutuality, and for this to happen, it must be done intentionally.

Radical Welcome involves conversion – on the part of the church itself. It is rooted in a theology that assumes that God is seeking our transformation and seeking to be in relationship with us. Our call to welcome “the Other” is rooted in God’s identity as the God of Welcome. God we learn is one who reaches out to all and not just to us. God is the one who seeks out the Prodigal – this is not a passive God, but one who actively loves.

This isn’t a along book, but it covers a lot of ground. It deals with matters of theology and practice. It illuminates our points of resistance – that is our fear of change and fear of “the Other.” It shines light on our discomfort with letting go of power. Radical Welcome moves beyond inviting, which seeks to bring others in through assimilation. “The Other” is invited in, but the expectation is that they will change, not us. They will, in the end become us. It also moves beyond inclusion, which Spellers defines as “incorporation.” A place is offered to the other to dwell safely, but the institution doesn’t change. Radical Welcome, on the other hand, is best defined by the term “incarnation.” It is a process where we enter into mutually transforming relationships. This is the goal of Radical Welcome.

To accomplish this goal, a church must be clear in its mission and vision, it must understand it’s identity, and discern not only what it is, but who is missing. Ministries must be designed so that they aren’t paternalistic. While leadership issues center on power, questions of worship will focus on finding ways to exhibit the diversity present.

Becoming a church such as the one described by Stephanie Spellers will require much of a church. She recognizes that such a community won’t emerge over night. In fact, it will likely come in stages, moving from inviting to inclusive and finally to radically welcoming others. There are important obstacles that range from tradition to power structures. The most important obstacle, however, is fear. Our fears are natural, even instinctive. In a world of constant change, many look to the church as a point of stability, and so change is not welcomed.

There is another fear that Spellers names and its one we tend to skirt, and that is the “fear of ‘the Other’.” The answer that many of us propose is relational. If we get to know each other we discover that we’re more alike than different. Spellers challenges that assumption. It is true that underneath we may be all the same, but in many ways we are all very different. Our cultures, languages, expectations, are very different, and these differences have to be accounted for. To accomplish we must create what she calls a “holding environment” – places that allow us to build trust and contain the stresses of change.

The book begins with theory, moves to identifying the issues, and then offers guidelines for accomplishing the goal of creating churches that are radically welcoming. The book is rooted in a project launched by Spellers in conjunction with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, which she serves as Minister of Welcome at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston. The objects of her study are Episcopal congregations around the United States that have sought to become “radically welcoming.” Their stories and their struggles are chronicled here, and they give depth to her words of wisdom.

In the closing pages of the book, the reader will find a lengthy list of online resources – resources the author has created for the purpose of taking the journey. These resources include questionnaires, workshop outlines, bible studies, lists of practices, and assessment tools. Following that is a significant bibliography. Everything, it seems, that’s needed, is provided. It only requires of us a commitment to follow God’s leading and become the body of Christ.
To read the book is to hear a call of God on the church to become more than it is. If you’re like me, you will discover that while you’re on the way, you’re a long ways from the finish line. But this resource will spur you on and it will help you discern the path. If you are white and part of a predominantly white church – as I am – then you will be challenged by the call to give up power, to share power, all of which requires us to take risks that can be painful. But, the end result will be worth taking the journey.

If you are seeking to become a truly welcoming congregation then this book is essential reading. It was recommended to me while I was attending the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. I had visited the booth of the “Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples” (GLAD) and when I asked what I needed to read, this was the book that was suggested. It’s not just about issues of homosexuality, though inclusion of gays and lesbians is part of the conversation, but it is bigger than that. It is a process of broadening and diversifying the church so that all voices are authentically welcomed and all who participate in the community are transformed by the encounter. Essential reading, that’s the conclusion.

My conclusion is these folks won't be happy until the last light is turned out.

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The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
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