Lent is coming soon! Lent is that season of the church year that invites us into deep reflection and prayer as we prepare for the observance of Jesus’ death and the celebration of his resurrection.
Often, we observe a very personal Lent, using the time to reflect upon our own relationship with God. While that is certainly important, this year, I am inviting the congregation into a communal reflection during Lent.
We’re invited to think deeply about what it means to be a church that loves all people and honors the image of God in every person. This is one of our values as a congregation and we’re going to spend time reading, reflecting, and talking about how we are called to live this out.
We’ll be challenged by the words of Stephanie Spellers, an Episcopal priest and Minister for Radical Welcome. Spellers challenges the church to open its eyes and look at the people living and hanging out in the neighborhoods around them. She says that every church has a growing edge about how they can become more radically welcoming to others.
She shares one of her own personal experiences of being radically welcomed in worship at an Episcopal church. She was attending an ordination service and heard a song that deeply impacted her. She writes:
On the surface, we all heard a magnificent quartet from a local black church singing Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.” What I and perhaps a few others could hear was a sweet memory. My mama used to play “Total Praise” on those random Sundays when she would pack me and my brother into the Oldsmobile Omega and cart us to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Later, I sang in some school-based gospel choirs and cobbled together my own gospel music collection. Even later, once I landed in the Episcopal Church, I played the songs religiously while I dressed for church, my private time to “get my praise on.” But hearing this music—a pop gospel hymn sung by soaring, expressive black voices—in an immense, dignified, European-American identified space? The tears poured, my hands waved, I lifted my voice, and deep inside I heaved a huge sigh of relief and gratitude for the welcome. Years after my official reception into the Episcopal Church, a part of me that I didn’t even know was sitting outside finally opened the door and came in.
(“Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of Transformation,” by Stephanie Spellers, p. 4)
In the coming weeks, we’ll pass out Speller’s book to every congregation member so that all of us are reading and thinking together. In addition, there will be small groups that will meet during Lent. Our hope and prayer is that all of us will participate in reading and discussing this book. Watch for more information in the coming week about this worship focus and about opportunities for small groups!