I often pop into the church around lunchtime to say my midday prayers. I tend to go up to the high altar and, inevitably, my eyes are drawn to the reredos which depicts Jesus performing three acts.
In the middle of the reredos Jesus is to be seen, hand raised, offering a sign of blessing. As nobody else is present in this scene it can be assumed that the message that the art work is seeking to convey is that God, through the person of Jesus, wishes to bless each and every one of us. To the right Jesus is shown sharing a simple, Eucharistic, meal with two friends. The message is straightforward: Jesus wants to both befriend us and extend the hand of hospitality. In the image to the left Jesus is shown meeting, affirming and healing the woman at the well. The woman was a Samaritan and had a somewhat colourful personal and sexual history. The message again is clear, Jesus’ desire is to include and then heal past hurts and failures.
‘Our’ reredos informs everything I believe about the Church. The Church must be a place where God can be encountered and people feel blessed. If I had to put a word to this I would simply call it holiness. The Church must also be a community that feeds, nourishes and includes. The Church must always seek to build longer tables, as opposed to higher fences, and we might term this hospitality. Finally, the Church must be a movement that offers each and every person the opportunity of healing. The Church must be a place where hurts and failures are transformed through love and affirmation.
So there we have it the Three Hs: Holiness, Hospitality, Healing. These are my three working aspirations for the Church, in Winslow.
However, the 'Three Hs' only make sense in the context of a radical approach to inclusivity such as that described below.
Sometimes you see something, an article, picture or image that really captures your imagination or creates the desire to shout 'yes, yes, yes.' Well, a few months ago I saw the words below on a poster outside Coventry Cathedral. For me these words define what it means for a church to be both truly hospitable and, non-judgmental. And, of course, these would be our aspirations for St Laurence. We aspire to be a church where all are truly welcome, irrespective of their status in life.
"We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, confused, filthy rich, comfortable or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to wailing babies and excited toddlers.
We welcome you whether you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself. Your welcome here if you’re ’just browsing’, just woken up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been in church since Christmas 10 years ago.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60, but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down in the dumps or don’t like ‘organised religion’. (We’re not that keen either!)
We offer a welcome to those who think the world is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell or are here because granny is visiting and wanted to come to the Cathedral.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both or neither. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as kids or got lost in the city centre and wound up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters … and you!"
So our invitation is straightforward please do come and join us whoever you are, whatever you have done, or not done, whatever difficulties you are facing, whatever joys you are experiencing. Come because, in the words of a hymn, 'all are welcome in this place.'
Rev'd Andrew Lightbown, Rector