A Service on Welcome and Belonging by Alyson Bull
This past Sunday, I had the experience of being in the sanctuary as it transitioned from pre-service set up to a room filled with a congregation ready to worship together. I watched as a simple, “Good morning,” said with a smile, beckoned people into the sanctuary. When one “Good morning” was voiced, others echoed the call, and it continued down the aisle as people searched for a spot to settle in. As the room filled up, some people were deeply engaged in conversation and others were sitting quietly not talking to anyone.
I began to wonder how people wanted to feel as they entered the service on Sunday morning. What do people need to feel welcome?
Let’s reflect for a moment about what you need to feel welcome and included as part of a community. What about a space, a place, a community makes it feel welcoming? What do the people do or not do? What do they say or leave unsaid?
And how do you know you belong somewhere? What are the indicators that it is a place where you are seen and valued, a place that accepts you as you are?
How do you know you belong?
[Time for the congregation to reflect] I invite you to turn to someone near you and share your thoughts with one another. What came up for you when you thought about those questions?
Providing a warm welcome that is inclusive of all people is a critical component to fostering a deeply connected, strong and resilient community where people feel a rich sense of belonging.
That doesn’t just magically happen. Being welcoming and inclusive is a community practice that each one of us must be intentional about and prioritize.
It can be challenging in well-established, mid-sized congregations to remain open and inviting. So many of us do so much to keep this place running, and there are many people here who have deep and life-long relationships, that it can feel difficult for some to make their way in and find where they fit. I have found that there are sometimes barriers to making meaningful connections with one another here.
WHY is all of this important? Beyond growing our membership numbers, filling the pews, and balancing our budgets, why is it important that this community be a welcoming place where people feel a deep sense of belonging?
[Time for the congregation to reflect] What do you think? Turn to someone near you and tell them why you think it is important that this community be a welcoming place where people feel a deep sense of belonging.
I would love to hear your answers to that question after the service.
Here is the answer that I am working on currently: To be healthy, whole people, we need one another’s support especially when navigating tumultuous times. To survive the rapidly changing landscape of the modern world, we must build INTERCONNECTED, DIVERSE, and RESILIENT COMMUNITIES.
I have experienced the power of a resilient community and relied on it for my family’s survival.
In the spring of 2020, my wife Annie and I were expecting twins. They were born in late March 2020, about two weeks into the pandemic shutdown.
It was this community who kept us afloat during the insanity of caring for newborn twins during a global pandemic. The Caring Circle’s meal train kept us fed, kept groceries in our cupboards, and got our trash to the dump each week. Religious Education friends made sure that we had our first cloth masks and a coveted N-95 so we could protect our vulnerable babes from the virus. We received phone calls, cards and casseroles that kept our bodies and our souls nourished. We introduced the twins to the world through our front window and over Zoom, and you waved joyfully and blew kisses to express all the love that social distancing would allow.
I know that I am not the only person here who has experienced life-supporting care from this congregation. Many people here have expressed how deeply connected they feel to one another and to this place. And I also know that not everyone has felt or experienced that here – at least, not yet.
We have the foundation for building a resilient and Beloved community here; but it is one we must continue to build and nurture so that we are prepared to handle whatever chaos, crisis, or curveball life throws at us– individually and collectively.
We must not grow complacent or rest comfortably in the relationships we already have. For our congregation to thrive, we must continue to commit to providing a radical welcome to all those who walk through our doors. And we must work to ensure that the people who are already here are connected in meaningful ways.
We must build an INTERCONNECTED, DIVERSE, and RESILIENT COMMUNITY.
A community that actively works to reject white supremacy culture, a community that upholds its covenants, holds one another accountable, and allows space for repentance and repair; one that celebrates life’s milestones – gathering together to share all their joys and all their sorrows. A community where each individual is able to show up as a whole, fully seen human being valued for ALL of who they are.
When I think about big changes like this, I feel overwhelmed. But then I remember what I have learned through my many years of teaching; it often takes just one small shift, one key intervention to unlock a world of possibility. And the key, I have found, is usually RELATIONSHIP.
Relationships are built on connection and connection is cultivated through conversation and shared experience.
So, what can we do to cultivate these connections?
- We can be intentional in offering one another a warm welcome each week.
- We can be courageous as we introduce ourselves to one another.
- We can learn each other’s names.
- We can mix up where we sit in the sanctuary and who we talk to at social hour.
Let’s work together to build a resilient community. Let’s build it together one conversation at a time.