I have been giving a lot of thought to something I read last week in a blog post on the BTS Center website. The post is titled "What Do We Mean When We Say 'All Are Welcome'?" It is written by a transgendered, black UCC pastor by the name of Lawrence Robinson. After a very probing set of questions, Robinson concludes his post with this: "When we say all are welcome we aren't merely announcing that anyone is welcome to become one of us. Instead we are proclaiming that we want all others to come in and help all of us to change--to help all of us to grow in love acceptance and community."
I thought about those words as I sat in the chancel during our second worship service of the morning yesterday, listening to the prelude and watching the congregation as various folks took their seats. I thought about those words as I watched one couple come in at the very last minute and get ushered to a pew where to women were sitting on the aisle. Very quickly and graciously, the two women who were already seated moved over to9 make room for the couple, and welcomed them with a warm smile and what I imagine was a kind word.
I know Robinson is talking about far more significant matters than who sits where in the pews, yet how symbolic. Yes, it's a simple way to start--but it is also a fine way to start! I have also seen people refuse to move, and watched from afar as latecomers have been forced to climb over them to get to an empty spot in the pew. I have even see folks visibly grumble as they reluctantly change their seats to make room for a newcomer.
How we welcome people, our willingness to make changes, to make accommodations, to make space, to change seats so to speak, determines whether or not folks feel truly included.
In the early years of one of our predecessor denominations, pews were rented out each year, and folks were seated based according to their ability to pay. So the well-to-do and privileged had the prime spots. We have long since abandoned that practice. But I wonder, have we really made a place in the pews free even now? Maybe its time we all consider moving over!
(Lawrence Robinson's full blog post can be found at http://www.thebtscenter.org/bearingsblog/)