Monday, October 26, 2009

Everyone welcome

If you've been around here this summer you'll know that I've been pretty busy with baptisms down in the valley, with barely a Sunday in June, July,August or September without at least 2, and often some on Saturday too. I've agonised at times, because it felt rather as if God's hospitality might be being abused.Party after party arrives, to fill the church with the joyful hubub of a family reunion,complete with rampaging todders, bling-wearing god mums and armies of tattood guys, looking deeply uncomfortable in suits.I talk as best I can about the beginning of a life-long journey, about God's unconditional love and our need to respond. I tell them that they are to feel at home in their Father's house,I administer the sacrament, am thanked warmly for a "lovely service" and sometimes told "You made us feel so welcome" and 99 times out of 100 that's it.
Over the next few weeks we may meet in the Co-op, or crossing the park and exchange friendly greetings. I say hopefully "Maybe see you at Messy Church" and they agree that they might try it one day, but we both know that it's very unlikely.

I've wondered and worried and thought and (more productively) prayed. I've listened to colleagues who have more robust demands, and I can see their point, but when it comes down to it, I've had no sense that God wants me to change my practice. At valley church particularly it's all about welcome. We are often chaotic - that's what happens if you're the sort of church that includes learning impaired adults as acolytes and trainee guide-dogs among the choristers, and has a vicar who is last-minute to her core. Sometimes it can be disappointing for one who loves beautiful liturgy (even, or particularly, when she knows that she herself is part of the problem) - but I'm pretty certain that most people who come through the door feel loved, wanted, WELCOME. And we're that way because God is a "come as you are" God, who accepts us first and transforms us afterwards.
So it would seem alien to me to turn away anyone that purported to seek a relationship with God through the Church, - even if I never get to see that relationship develop...

But this past Sunday, the official relationship never got off the ground at all.
I first met the family back in August.
Little X was approaching her first birthday . She had, apparently, had serious health problems just after birth and her mum had spoken of her need to engage with God as a thank you for the gift of her daughter...I battled the post-Stroud-half-marathon traffic down from church on the hill, reopened chuch in the valley, turned on lights, lit candles, checked water temperature of font and waited...and waited...and waited some more. Roads were still blocked or busy, so it wasn't til twenty minutes after the time we'd agreed that I phoned the mum
"I thought we were due to be baptising X today"
Silence
"Oh...yeah...Didn't I tell you? We moved house last week and...oh well...I thought I'd told you..."
KF (brightly) "Goodness - you'll have alot on your plate with a move and a toddler. Why don't you get in touch later, when things have calmed down..."
"OK. I could do.."
Finis.
I stood in the empty church and tried to analyse my feelings.
I was very very tired (it takes a while to regain a whole missing night), and the morning hadn't been fantastic - so on one level, it was simply a relief to be able to stop, to take off the kit and the public face and to sit in a weary heap in the Lady Chapel before driving home...But on another and deeper level I was so very disappointed.
Not that I don't understand all too well how easy it is for things to get forgotten amid the chaos of life with a toddler in a small flat, leaving aside the complexities of a house move.Life is a struggle for many of the families I meet, and my priorities and theirs are never likely to match exactly - but all the same, I felt somehow hurt for God, and almost guilty that I'd opened the way for this. Hospitality not just abused, but spurned...

But then I looked at the altar, where only a couple of hours ago Christ's body had been broken and shared once again, and remembered that the God who gives himself to us like that is no stranger to abuse or rejection - and keeps on loving, no matter what.

So, no change in baptism policy then...Everyone welcome.

9 comments:

Mary Beth said...

What a beautiful statement of hospitality, warmth, and love.

We have a different policy, and I grieve for those tattooed godfathers who never come to our church because of it.

God_Guurrlll said...

((Kathryn))

You are a wonderful pastor. You truly get it.

LYMI

gloriousthings said...

Stick with it Kathryn. If you have a strict baptism policy then a myth will circulate like the gossip here that 'the vicar wont baptise my child' We are finding that parents don't try asking for fear of being rejected or looking stupid. A huge shame as that is not what God is like at all. However, by being tough a surprising number are opting for a thanksgiving service because they don't have to make any promisie. At the service they discover that they have been touched by God's love and are deciding to come to church. But then, we are fortunate that all our thanksgiving and baptism services can still be done within the context of the Sunday family services and there are members of the congregation to extend that welcome. Just goes to show how few we have!

Michelle said...

Wow! There is much to think about here...including gratitude for a pastor who will baptize the 99 who may not return for the one who now will.

DogBlogger said...

(o)

St said...

Just trying to wonder if there's an in between step - not 'come to messy church' but 'come to my house for a meal.' Once a month feed a load of people - folk form church, baptism contacts, others you bump into, neighbours. It's just one step up hospitality. Get caterers in if you want and put it on expenses.

LutheranChik said...

The thing about extravagant grace and hospitality is...it becomes leaven in the wider community in ways that aren't always immediately apparent.

Our church also has a very open policy about weddings, baptisms, hospital visits and funerals -- if you ask us to do this for yourself or a loved one, we will. Like you, we experience, time after time, that sinking feeling that our hospitality is being abused by people who just don't it -- who come to get themselves or their loved ones "done," and then disappear down the road, never to return.

But then...a few years ago we decided that we needed a larger, more accessible worship space. After much prayer, discussion and professional consultation, we decided to go ahead and build a new sanctuary -- with the knowledge that, for this thing to work, we would have to rely a great deal on the expertise and general "sweat equity" of our members. Scary stuff, particularly for a congregation that averages about 85 in church on an average Sunday.

But what happened...other people showed up to help us build our church. Other people gave us materials. Other people gave us donations. These were people who don't attend our church, not even the modest once-a-year commitment we ask of people in order to keep them on the books. But somewhere, somehow, something our parish did for them or for a member of their family touched them in a way that has made us "our parish" for them and even compelled them to give back. And that's continued to happen in the years since.

All of which is a very long way of saying: Keep fighting the good fight. You never know what God is up to when those people show up at your church door.

Song in my Heart said...

I do think your policy is the right one. God doesn't turn anyone away.

I also wonder whether there is some way to get all these people talking to one another, somehow -- a baptism preparation discussion with two or three families, perhaps.

Maybe it would be worth giving this family a ring in a few weeks, just to let them know the invitation is still open. It takes some of us a while to realise that, especially if we know we've messed up.

In the meantime I will hold this situation in prayer.

Songbird said...

I would wonder if there was some other significant family who objected to the baptism. Perhaps the mother didn't call because she didn't want to cancel, but couldn't show up, either. Either way, I'm sorry you were left that way, though glad you found you were with Jesus all along.