Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Visitor Named Barbara

I'm in such a wonderful church, both the denomination (United Church of Christ) and the local church I serve. We had a visitor today--her name was Barbara. She made a point of telling me that during the "Where Did You See God This Week?" portion of our contemporary service, she almost said out loud how much it had meant to her that our church has all these "Welcome" signs around the propoerty. She thought the service started at 9:30 (instead of 9:00), so she was late, and because she's a first-time visitor when she realized she was late she probably would've turned around and gone home except that all these signs made her "brave," she said. She ended up staying for our Adult Education hour, our traditional service as well as the coffee fellowship!

Anyway, it made me happy to hear her say that because those signs actually do speak to who we are. As you drive up to our church we have these Burma-shave-style signs that repeat one of the UCC's main slogans: No Matter Who You Are...Or Where You Are on Life's Journey...You are Welcome Here. And it's true! All people are welcome, as our Open & Affirming Statement makes clear:

We, the congregation of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Fort Worth, declare ourselves to be Open and Affirming. We strive to be a congregation that includes all persons, embracing differences of sexual orientation, gender and its expression, marital status, age, mental and physical health and ability, racial and cultural identity or background, and educational or socioeconomic status. We welcome all to share in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, sacraments, responsibilities, blessings and joys of our congregation’s life in Christ.
I just love that we really do strive to live by that statement. We're already a pretty diverse congregation, but another initative we're taking is a new push this year to devise new strategies so that people living with a mental illness will also come to know our church as a place of welcome and affirmation, a place where they can encounter God on a regular basis through worship and through our community. The local president of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a member of our church, so she and I are making this a priority project this year.

I feel so strongly that this is what the Body of Christ should be about (among other things, of course), and I'm so grateful that I get to serve a church with these kinds of commitments and vision. Thank you, God!

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