Over the summer at St Clare’s we have run a service series on the theme ‘Included’. This is the concluding sermon.
“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”Matthew 24: 42
On Wednesday morning, I was chatting to my friend Steve, who’s the leader of another church a bit like St Clare’s, who comes in for a chat over a coffee every so often, when a tall, white, older gentleman came into the shop and spent a bit of time looking at the books. He then walked over to us, and without any preamble, decreed that these days he had atheistic leanings, because he was tired of the church and the way it was going. I sighed inwardly, it’s sadly something I’ve heard before. People leaving the church because they can no longer cope with attitudes that sadly seem to exclude rather than welcome people, that judge people, rather than loving them.
“Oh I’m sorry to hear that…” I ventured, before the man loudly continued:
“Yes, the church these days is just too ‘woke’. I mean, what’s this nonsense about using the word ‘humankind’ when ‘mankind’ is a perfectly good word, and everyone knows that man means all people…”
I’m paraphrasing a bit here, and he had more to say, but you get the general gist…
Steve tried to gently suggest that maybe being ‘woke’ wasn’t about him, and maybe other people found the word ‘man’ meaning all people, to be difficult. I was simply smiling through gritted teeth, wishing I was wearing a Smash the Patriarchy t-shirt.
Our visitor was having none of it. He laughingly decreed that he liked to be provocative, and if people didn’t like him, so be it. I for one, I’ll be honest, did not warm to him. From his place of privilege, I don’t think this man had ever stopped to consider whether him being provocative, wasn’t just an intellectual thing for the people he provoked, but actually caused them harm, caused them to feel lesser. He didn’t seem remotely interested in how his views might make other people feel.
Over the last month, we’ve been hearing stories about how church has not always been a safe or welcoming place because of other people’s views and attitudes. Thank you so much to those of you who have shared about neurodiversity, disability, mental health and poverty, just four of a long list of things that can deliberately or inadvertently lead to people feeling excluded. On our initial list of topics that we might have looked at we also had gender, race and sexuality, issues that sadly continue to cause contention and argument in the church, at the expense of the wellbeing of real people.
One of the values of St Clare’s is to be open. And just in case anyone is uncertain, you are welcome here if you are male or female, you are welcome here if you are cis, trans or non-binary, you are welcome here if you are black, white or brown, you are welcome here if you are young, old or middle aged, you are welcome here if you are gay, straight, bisexual, or queer, you are welcome here if you feel tickety-boo, or if you’re teetering on the edge of the abyss of depression, anxiety or any other mental illness, or suffer with any other kind of illness or disability, you are welcome here if you are neurotypical or neurodiverse, you are welcome here if you are rich or poor, you are welcome here full stop.
Jesus tells us to stay awake. Awake, so we can be alert to injustice and oppression, to the things that exclude or imprison people, that stop them being all that God who loves and created them, intends them to be. That for me is what it means to be ‘woke’. I want to be alert to when racism, sexism, poverty, sexuality, mental illness, disability, neurodiversity or anything else, makes people feel that they are lesser. And I especially want to be alert to when that is happening in the church which should be the place, above all else, where all God’s children are valued, loved and welcomed, just as they are.
That was the way that Jesus lived his life.
- Jesus who talked to women as equals including a woman from Samaria, a people who endured ongoing racism from the Jewish people at the time.
- Jesus who denounced the idea that disability was somehow people’s fault because of their sin, or their parents’ sin.
- Jesus who made clear that anyone and everyone was invited to the heavenly banquet, they just needed to show up.
- Jesus who condemned those Pharisees who were piously judgmental of others.
- Jesus who had a heart for the poor and challenged the wealthy.
- Jesus who at the beginning of his ministry declared:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
I said near the beginning that I had heard many stories of people who had left church because they felt unwelcome. But what I also know if that for many many of those people, though they left church, they didn’t leave God, or more precisely, God didn’t leave them. The stories we have heard over the last month have at times been harrowing, but they have also been shot through with grace, with the presence of Jesus who is with us and loves us, wherever we are, and whatever other people may say to us or think of us.
Our vision at St Clare’s is to be a home to the spiritually seeking, to those who have wandered away from God, to those who never knew God and to those who have lost their faith in the church.
Thank you, that together, we are making that vision a reality.
We pray today for God’s blessing on all those who feel excluded, unloved or unwelcome.
- God bless those whose gender or sexuality has caused them harm or exclusion
- God bless refugees and asylum seekers, so often made to feel unworthy and unwelcome
- God bless the poor and the homeless
- God bless those who are ill in body, mind or spirit
- God bless those who are neurodiverse
- God bless those who are disabled
- God bless those who have suffered racism
- God bless prisoners and those who are persecuted or oppressed
- God bless those who have been silenced
- God bless those whose lives are threatened by the reckless actions of others and the careless misuse of creation
- God bless us, and help us to join with you in welcoming all people into your kingdom
Rev Charlotte Gale, July 2022