Across the Pastor’s Desk: Are all welcome in the church?

Published 8:00 pm Friday, June 14, 2024

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Don Rose

“All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place” are the words to the refrain of a hymn that has become a favorite to many, with both words and music by Marty Haugen. Its exposure to many is relatively new, but it has connected with many in describing the way the community of faith should appear to the world. The message of the hymn and its refrain would appear to be more than obvious to any who are familiar with the well-known passage, John 3:16, that speaks of God’s love for the whole world.

Don Rose

Unfortunately, an examination of the history of faith communities suggests that, though a phrase such as “all are welcome” is spoken, it may not be true in practice. Examples of such a reality are many.

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Church buildings were often among the last to be made accessible for persons other than the temporarily-abled. “No one can force us to have an elevator” or “Why spend that kind of money when no one is around to use it?” were not at all uncommon phrases when it came time for church remodeling.

Ironically, it was often the loudest critic who found himself or herself in a situation where such an improvement gave access that otherwise would not have been available. If all are welcome, would not the community of faith have been in the forefront of accessibility?

“All are welcome” is often true if the “all” looks like, acts like, lives like and thinks like the others in the group. On the other hand, such a welcome goes by the wayside if the “all” are diverse and bring with them new ideas and/or approaches to faith and life. Is it not the case that “all are welcome” will only be true when in fact all are welcome?

Many Christians struggle with the reality of the message of God’s love for all. It can be difficult to remember and to accept that all people, no matter their response to Christ, are in fact valued by God. That means that they have the same worth and value as any believer or anyone else.

A sure sign of the reign of God will be when, as the Haugen hymn says, “Let this house (the church, the community of faith) proclaim from floor to rafter, all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

Don Rose is a pastor at Mansfield and United Lutheran churches in Walters.