“Welcome” is a word of kindly greeting,
as to one whose arrival gives pleasure.
I have come to believe that one of the most difficult and necessary things God calls us to do is to welcome others into our midst. Although it might seem counter-intuitive or even blasphemous to say, this is especially difficult in the church. One experienced priest explains the difficulty this way:
“In the parish…we may be constantly rubbing elbows with people…we would not normally choose as friends….We do not get to pick out who we will encounter….We work with whoever is put in our path. Most of those people are delightful, and not much needs to be said about the benefit of working with them. We enjoy what they offer us, as they expand our horizons and teach us to see things in a new way. This is one of the real joys of community life.
“There are also always a few difficult members of the parish. They are also our teachers. Those who are emotionally unhealthy or irritating force us to take seriously the teachings of Christ. Through them we learn how to love unconditionally, and also how to stand firm and set needed boundaries with kindness. They push our buttons, and thereby reveal to us uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Others are difficult for us because they think differently about the faith than we do; they force us to become clearer about what we believe, and teach us the value and possibility of living respectfully with our differences.
“There is a story about the spiritual teacher Gurdjieff, whose community suffered long with a particularly obnoxious member and eventually pressured him to leave. It is said that Gurdjieff chased after him until he found him in a nearby town, begging him to return, because of the way the community kept learning from his presence….The church is not perfect, but like the ‘good enough’ parent, a phrase coined by the child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, often the parish community is good and healthy enough” (Brian Taylor, Becoming Christ: Transformation Through Contemplation, pp. 100-101).
That’s a question for all faith communities to consider: When it comes to welcoming others, how “good enough” or healthy is my church or your church? Is it healthy enough? If not, what might we do about it?