All Welcome?

‘All Welcome’ – I think that phrase has become a cliché. I add it to every bit of publicity I produce for my 6 churches, in the same way (as a well-brought-up child!) I automatically add ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, without thinking.

I do want to mean it, of course, that everyone is welcome to our services and events – but are these sometimes empty words? A long-time resident of our Benefice commented to me recently that they had gone alone to something outside their usual parish and, while people said ‘Hello’, no one stopped to talk or to ask how they were. I don’t like to think how they must have felt as they drove home, alone.

Of course, there are many occasions when our village communities do a superb job of drawing people in and showing deep care and concern; and there are also many understandable reasons why we sometimes hold back; simple shyness, awkwardness about what to say to someone unfamiliar, the fear of intruding.

Often though, if we’re honest, we just get caught up in catching up with our existing friends, those with whom we already feel comfortable; or we’re busy with our own agendas and focussed on what we want to get done. I caught myself at it yesterday, asking someone; ‘How are you?’ but barely listening to their response because I knew I was running late.

There’s a Gospel story in which Jesus is pressed for time. He’s on his way to help an important man whose daughter is dying but, as he struggles through a jostling crowd, a woman who has been sick and isolated for years reaches out and touches just the hem of his cloak. He could so easily have kept on walking, but he stops, turns, and won’t move on until he’s identified the woman, spoken to her with respect and, in front of everyone, lovingly called this previously disregarded figure, ‘Daughter’.

When we, as a church, say ‘All welcome’ we must mean it; that no matter what a person’s background, no matter whether we instantly find common ground with them, we are willing to offer them both our time and our attention.  

Our churches and events will not be ‘welcoming’ unless each of us is welcoming, not just with a distant smile, but ready, as Jesus was, to go out of our way to make people feel that they truly are wanted.

Revd Kate McFarlane