“I come here because they don’t judge me.”
That was the response last Sunday to a question posed by one of our guest musicians to a member of our congregation. Jane [name changed] is homeless. She has some mental health issues and sometimes isn’t on her meds. But she has found a place where both her body and soul can be fed.
I have sometimes described our congregation as “a congregation of misfits.” Besides our core group of “traditional” church people, our congregation includes people dealing with addictions of many kinds…homeless folks…ex-convicts…LGBT individuals…ex-addicts…extremely dysfunctional families…. People who wouldn’t feel comfortable–or who wouldn’t be welcomed–in a typical congregation.
Does this combination of folks create challenges? You bet! There are personality clashes at times. Some of our folks wander in and out during the service. Sometimes they’re present for a few weeks and then gone for several–either because they’ve got other things (including family needs) that need to take priority…or because they’re in jail. We definitely don’t all believe alike.
But a core value for us is “the worth of all persons.” ALL…no exceptions.
We accept folks where they are. Do we want them to stay there? No…but we realize that for many of them, they have to feel safe before they can even begin to think about the possibility of change. And for some, change may not be possible–or something they choose to do. But as long as they do not hurt others, they are welcome.
We don’t judge–at least, we try not to. We try to encourage, to mentor–but not to judge. Sometimes, as individuals, we do find ourselves thinking judgmentally…but as a congregation, we focus on making all welcome…seeing each one as one of God’s beloved children…and remembering that judgement is not our responsibility. It’s God’s.