A Deeper Welcome

A few weeks ago, I attended a retreat for people all over the Synod of the Northeast.  While we were worshiping, a young mother with a child began to get up and leave the service.  She did so because her young one was making noise (imagine that!  a young child making noise!).  As she left, someone next to me looked at her and said compassionately, "you don't have to leave."  The mother smiled but left nonetheless.  

The woman who had invited her to stay actually left the worship service and followed the mother out the door.  A few minutes later, the woman and the child returned to worship with the rest of us.  I feel it safe to assume that the woman spoke to the mother and re-affirmed her invitation.  The woman must have believed that worship is a place for all persons, regardless of age and regardless of their ability to be "decent and in order" (as us Presbyterians so often obsess over).

This, friends, is a radical welcome.  We need more of this in our churches and worshiping communities.  

At this retreat, we talked about getting to a place of "deeper welcome."  So often, we were told, we take "welcome" to mean "you're welcome to join us here were we are comfortable."  This model of welcome is a very self-centered approach that doesn't embody the radical inclusivity that Jesus practiced and preached.  

A deeper welcome is a welcome in which we say "you are welcome here and, to prove it, I am going to come to you in your reality and not expect it the other way around."  Many churches are worried about dwindling numbers but are unwilling to explore this deeper welcome that is so very prevalent in Jesus' actions in the Gospels.  

I learned something very valuable that day.  I must be challenged to see things from others perspectives.  As long as my definition of welcome comes from my vantage point of comfort, it will get me nowhere and I will be no where closer to embodying what it is that Jesus is calling me, and us, to do.

So, friends, welcome to a "deeper welcome."  What are the ways in your community that you practice a deeper welcome?


Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.