Just a Moment with Father Rod 26 February 2023
The after-service coffee melee had begun. The sermon was shorter so quite a number stayed!
Dulcie * was a ‘returnee’ to this year’s worship and was welcomed warmly. She said she enjoyed the service and it was ‘good to be back’, but she couldn’t hear very much. I was waiting for the usual Anglican ‘welcoming response’, such as ‘Love to see you again. If you sit closer to the front then you can hear more” . For an older, dyed-in-the-wool Anglican, to be asked to come again and sit down the front. Most Anglicans dodge that very visible and isolating possibility and have turned it into an art form. The standard reply did not come. Instead, Annette * moved across and indicated that she was a bit deaf too, and would Dulcie like to ‘come and sit with me down the front next Sunday? ‘
After years as an Archdeacon in South Western Queensland, I was used to hearing parishes describe themselves as very welcoming. Yes, we’d love to see you. Come at the time we meet, do it our way, sing our songs, put some money in the plate, and we’d love to see you again. A couple of hours later talking down the street in those small country communities sometimes told a different story.
I reflected again on the gospel narratives filled with the records of Jesus’ encounter with others. This is one of the true riches of the gospels, for if we are to imitate Christ, then we richly nourish the style of our own relationships by observing Jesus in action. Firstly, Jesus seems to stop with the person concerned. Whether it be under Zaccheus’ tree, with the rich young man, the woman at the well, the invalid at the pool, or even the woman who touched the hem of his cloak. The encounter then becomes all about 'where that person is at’. The focus is on them, not on us, even if that is a little uncomfortable.
I am sure that Jesus was always welcoming of disciples and followers. Loved them as ‘sheep without a shepherd’, fed them, and gave them such absolute pearls like the Beatitudes. We can do the same. But his invitational style was always something more. His focus was on the ‘other’, and there were risks, such as finding himself at table with ‘publicans and sinners’, or almost inviting his own stoning while standing with the woman caught in the act of adultery.
It seems then, if we are to be ‘Jesus people’, that there is a subtle but important difference between ‘welcome’ and’ invite’. It is not unimportant that ‘invite’ has aspects of ‘include’. And ‘include’ often involves change. In fact, true invitation involves us also changing in order to meet the need or opportunity of the moment.
Have we got what it takes as a community of faith, a Church, to always replace our warm ‘welcome to join us’ on our terms, with an invitation to others in which God summons us to take risks, and in which we too can be transfigured ?
Bless Saints Andrew and Annette * for their reminders.
* Names changed to protect the innocent.