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Characteristics of a Radically Welcoming Community

by Stephanie Spellers

Radically welcoming communities aren’t perfect, and may never truly “arrive,” but they are becoming . . .

Hospitable: They seek to offer a gracious, intentionally reconciling space to all people, especially those who have been defined at “The Other.” (See my previous article on “The Other.”) Every church has a different story, thus a different Other, but these groups are often systemically marginalized in mainline churches: people of color, poor people, children and young adults, seniors without money, gay and lesbian people (and, depending on context, bisexual and transgendered people), people with disabilities.

Reconciling: They build mutually transforming relationships with their neighbors, their neighborhood, and with brothers and sisters beyond their neighborhood – wherever Christ calls them to knit his broken body back together again.

Centered: They possess a clear sense of Christian identity. It is based on their cultural/denominational heritage, and in an unapologetic calling to live out the dream of God as they have discerned it in light of scripture, tradition, reason and context.

Open to conversion: They attempt to listen carefully to, make room for, share power with, and learn from The Other, and they are open to genuine conversation and transformation based on this encounter. Practically speaking, this results in a transformed understanding of who “belongs,” what ministries the church undertakes, how they select leaders, how they do make decisions, how they worship, what they claim as their mission and purpose, and how they partner with other groups.

Intentional: They recognize radical welcome is a way of being, one that is cultivated over time by church leaders though formation, worship, mission, and other areas of congregational life. They engage in training, research, active listening and strategic planning – conscious, contextually appropriate efforts that address individual, congregational, and systemic change.

Compassionate: The prioritize the work of creating “space for grace,” a term made popular by priest and consultant Eric Law, author of Sacred Acts, Holy Change: Faithful Diversity and Practical Transformation (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2002). These occur in pastoral counseling, small groups, forums, and other settings where people can express and hold their dreams, stories and fears.

Faithful: They are not driven by the desire for diversity, growth or getting it “right.” They seek to follow Jesus Christ, who embraces and heals all people and inspires us to tell a new story of life together: not your story or my story, but our story.

How can your community embrace Radical Welcome?

Stephanie Spellers is lead priest at The Crossing, the emergent community based at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston. An acclaimed preacher, she is the author of Radical Welcome: Embracing God, the Other and the Spirit of Transformation and co-editor of Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition.

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