Growing up in a church gave me a sense of belonging both to the congregation and to their beliefs. Our family life revolved around Sunday school, Sunday worship services, Wednesday suppers, choir practices, and revivals. At eight, I was baptized at Gordon Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, and I felt safe belonging to this familiar spiritual family. Gradually, though, I began to miss friends whose families no longer attended. Our dwindling congregation met to vote over the church’s future, and words of anger were exchanged. Eventually, our church closed its doors amidst the strife of integration, busing, blockbusting, and white flight. Our church died an all white congregation unwilling to change its membership rules. The building now houses Atlanta’s Shrine of the Black Madonna.
As an adult, I can look back and see the other signs of prejudice. The church “served” the surrounding poor community by offering services at a separate mission building. When these folks did come to our church building, we called them “mission people,” an example of us and them. Basically, everyone was welcome, as long as they knew their place. Perhaps this is why I love the phrase “radical welcome”, which challenges us to cultivate an environment of welcome and belonging.
By extending a sense of belonging to all, we keep our community alive and vital, and our doors open to the world beyond.
~ Lisa Kiel