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Nov 11, Archdeacon Kevin: We welcome you

You will have said those words many times at baptism services. I said them recently in the Cathedral at the admission of an Honorary Canon. And we look forward to using the same or similar words as this month we welcome Robert and Chris Freeman to the diocese as +Robert begins his ministry amongst us as Bishop of Penrith.

“We welcome you,� says to the newly baptised or to our new bishop, we are really pleased to have you with us and we want you to feel at home among us. More than that, it says to those who come among us, this is now your church and your diocese as much as it is ours.

Of course, that is the kind of welcome that God extends to each of us as we come into His Kingdom. There is no second or third class membership of the Kingdom. We are ushered right in and dignified from the start as full citizens, with all the rights and privileges that that brings. The Apostle Peter speaks of our “rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,� (2 Peter 1:11). Wonderfully, the one who welcomes us is the King Himself. It is Jesus who leads us to the door, greets us as we enter, introduces us to our fellow citizens and makes us fully a part of the great venture of the church in the world.

Truly welcoming others into the church means replicating that same quality of welcome. It means saying to those we welcome, come right on in, we are so glad you are part of us!
That has to apply to children and young people who hear the words “We welcome you,� at their baptism. Welcoming children means honouring them as full members of the church. It means bringing them into the centre of the church’s life, nurturing them in the faith, learning from them and journeying alongside them.

Welcoming people into our Sunday worship means more than giving them a hymn book when they come through the door! If newcomers can summon the courage to come among us, then we need to give them the welcome of a lifetime. As it is, only 10 per cent of visitors ever return to our churches. In a new course designed to improve the welcome we extend in our churches, Bob Jackson and George Fisher say “We may not realise how unwelcoming we appear to outsiders. In many of our churches it is normal not to speak to newcomers. We are not usually openly hostile, we just ignore them and eventually they go away�. Not in your church, of course, but too often this is sadly the case.

And when we get our initial visitor welcome right, we need to remember that our guests are probably not there just for the after-service coffee. “I woke up this morning and felt I just had to come to church today,� someone said to me recently. “I didn’t know where else to turn�, is something I hear from time to time. Someone else told me that they had started coming to church again to try and rediscover their Christian faith. Others come to us consciously searching for meaning in their lives. If we are to truly welcome visitors, we need to meet them in their searching and questioning and do all that we can to point them to God’s “rich welcome into an eternal Kingdom�.

Extending the church’s welcome is important business. Let’s make sure that we give to people “probably the best welcome in the Church of England�!

Kevin Roberts
Archdeacon of Carlisle

 

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