Sunday, September 17, 2006

Breaking Down the Barriers

As we get closer to the scheduled demolition of two of our buildings at Mount Vernon Place, there are new signs and walls emerging all throughout the church. When I returned today after being gone a few days I was greeted with several new signs on the doors and a new wall that separates one part of the church from another part.

The wall is not very attractive right now -- but it gets the job done as it definitely keeps people out of the restricted areas that will soon be demolished.

The message on the signs is quite clear. They quickly tell people inside the building where they are and are not to be within the walls of the church. I got the point rather quickly when I walked into the church today. I felt very unwelcome. The signs and the wall stuck out at me like a sore thumb...and I belong here. I know what is happening and why the signs exist.

All of this made me think about other barriers at the church. One of them is a horrible, metal gate that blocks one of the entrances to the church. It is an eyesore -- one that sends the message that people are not welcome on our porch or that we are afraid that someone might get inside who is not welcome inside. The barrier is one that I used to be able to ignore a little easier since we never used these doors. However, these doors are now the main entrance to our offices, and I have to walk through the gates each day. I have learned how hard it is to welcome people inside when the gates do not open all the way. The gates will thankfully be coming down very soon as part of the renovation project, and they will not be replaced when the work is over. The barrier will be broken down.

But what are the other barriers that exist at the church? Someone recently asked me how new people could possibly feel welcome inside such a large, stately structure. I have thought a lot about her question.

I also wonder about the other barriers we have created between those inside the church and those outside the church. If everyone inside the church is dressed in their Sunday best then how will those who prefer shorts and jeans feel? If everyone inside knows the routine -- why we say certain things or recite a prayer called, "The Lord's Prayer," then will the person who is new to the liturgy feel comfortable? If everyone is old then will the young person feel a sense of community? If everyone seems to have it all together then how will the person feel who is filled with guilt from the events of the weekend?

We're talking a lot at Mount Vernon Place about what it means to be the church -- about what it means to be the kind of place where all people are welcome. I pray that the barriers we have grown accustomed to will start shining in a different light so that we can see them, address them and remove them. I pray that all people -- every single person who visits our church -- really will feel welcome at Mount Vernon Place -- that we will be a church for all of God's children.

In the meantime, we have some barriers to break down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it is great that your Church is taking down its barriers. That is a truly more welcoming!

The question comes to mind, but what about the security factor? We've had the question at my church about who gets a key lately. It is the same issue - really. Who do we say welcome to? Who are we willing to "let in"?

There's a great sermon out there in "sermon land" that addresses this issue head-on. It's entitled, "Skeletons in God's Closet" by Thomas Tewell, then Pastor of New York Pres.

That church made the news because they were preventing the police from "sweeping our property" and trying to get rid of the homeless people from sleeping on the church property.

Some members of the church would actually meet the homeless persons with a cup of coffee in the morning at 5:30 and even a song.

That church viewed those people as their guests, which evolved into frineds and members and workers in that parish.

This passage is from the conclusion section of his sermon, "If Jesus were to come back to today, would we make room in the church, on the steps, along the walls, in the sanctuary? You see, I think Jesus comes to us disguised as a nuisance, as a bother, as a homeless person - because Jesus knows if he came as the King of kings and Lord of lords, we would naturally say, "Oh, Jesus, welcome." But when he comes disguised as a homeless person, Jesus can really see into us and ask, "Are you the kind of people who would really make room in your house?"

Glad y'all traded in the iron bars for a welcome mat!

Amy's Starbucks friend.