Is “Welcome” the Best We Can Do? – Guest Post by Anna Snoeyenbos


The following is a guest post by Anna Snoeyenbos. A lifelong Unitarian Universalist originally from the Ballou Channing District, Anna writes at www.deepriverfaith.com.  She lives in Georgia, where she is a proud member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.

I was moved this week by the outpouring of love and embrace from Unitarian Universalist churches towards the GLBTQ community in the wake of recent tragedies. There has been no better moment to live our welcoming theology.

But in the midst of the response, I was also reminded that our welcoming efforts haven’t really helped our growth. While we have been embracing all people – no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation or beliefs for most of recent history, we have also been shrinking. Intuitively, wouldn’t you think that keeping the door open for everyone would bring more people over the threshold?

The most common UU response to this all-too-familiar paradox has been to chastise ourselves – saying over and over again that yes we are welcoming but not welcoming enough or not in the right way. Yes we are multicultural in theory but we need to stop assuming x, or stop worshipping like y, or bring in more of z in order to get our Sunday morning pews to look a little less like a liberal arts college reunion.

In my opinion, this line of reasoning is not only demoralizing for congregations, but it’s also missing the mark and in some ways patronizing towards the groups of people we are trying to attract. The focus is only on bringing people into our community. But who is asking the question of what we give them when they get here? Yes, community is a vital component to our faith – but is it really enough for most people seeking, and in many cases desperately needing, faith to want to hang out with us?

I think the answer is no. Most people are looking for more than just being welcomed. They want to be welcomed into something that will take them somewhere – give them something. This is especially true for our marginalized neighbors who need faith to be more for them than just a community of book discussions and debates about God’s existence.

When our message to the GLBTQ community is “you are welcome to come here” we are missing an opportunity to say “God loves you and so do we. Please come and share your beautiful light with us.” Which message would save you in an hour of need?

I bring-up this one example to warn us that pushing our message of welcome without backing it up with a faith that will heal people will neither accomplish our mission nor increase our numbers. I know we mean well – but we can do better. The world needs us to.

5 thoughts on “Is “Welcome” the Best We Can Do? – Guest Post by Anna Snoeyenbos”

  1. Right on, Anna! It is hard for many of us to believe we’re truly welcome if we our gifts and talents aren’t of use in the wider work of the community – in justice, service, administration, worship, and faith development. Knowing, valuing, and integrating each person’s gifts is part of being a whole person – and can lead to experiences of even deeper healing and hope for the individual, community, and world, when doors that have repeatedly been closed upon us are opened wide. Just because we assert we are already loved & loveable doesn’t mean we don’t have to back it up with actions. Thanks for this post!

  2. Well, maybe. All churches keep their doors open and hope new people will show up. This is not good enough. UU churches should reach out to cohorts of the population such as single parents, people who are recently widowed or divorced, families who have an alcoholic member…the list is endless. UUs think this is a great idea, but have no idea how to pull this off.

    Once arrived, newcomers need to understand what journey a particular congregation is embarked upon. I know of few UU congregations that can define this journey. I can’t tell you how many people have wistfully said to me, “I’ve been a member of this church for eight or nine years, and don’t believe I’m any more of a religious or spiritual person than when I joined.”

  3. I think the concept of “being welcoming” — once radical and transformative — has become something of a tradition, much in the same way as lighting the chalice or singing hymns. We do them, often without putting thought into why we are doing them, or the deeper meaning behind them.

    Imagine joining a church and suggesting that they go out of their way to welcome GLBTQ folks. And then someone raises the question: “Why?” And then you have to list the reasons, challenging the cultural and theological assumptions of that community in the process.

    In a way, your post here is challenging us to ask ourselves that question once again, and in so doing remind ourselves of the real reason we strive to be actively inclusive. Thank you for that!

  4. As a lesbian, I am in the UU community because I am welcome, but I don’t stay just for that. It gets me in the door, but I stay because my spiritual journey is what I make of it. If in my early days someone had said to me “God loves you and so do we” it would have sent me running out the door. I have heard that line before by fundamentalist who meant it, but only in the narrowest and most controlling ways. When I introduce myself to new faces in my congregation I never use the “G” word. I tell them how long I have been a member, only a few years, and ask what brought them here. I stress the welcome I have felt and that my spiritual journey is supported here. For my part, the atheist example is the most compelling and spiritual story I come across. I am a theist, but the atheist who chooses to support humanity and our planet because it is the right thing to do blows away anything that any God centered spiritual system offers. On my darkest hours, knowing God loves me is nice, but what is the face of God? It comes from the love and nurturing in the world around me; the wind , rain and earth beneath me; the smiles, tears and hugs from those humans in my life; from the grace and savage beauty in the natural world; from the inspiration of art, music and poetry ; from the inspirational personal histories of challenging lives lived. Those things and more count here.

    Newcomers need to know that the UU path is ready to embrace them no matter where they are on their spiritual path. Someone who may have been beaten down by other religious traditions can find our freedom overwhelming or fake. They can take this path on turbo speed or at a snail’s pace. They choose. What they need now is the smile of welcome and the offer of company along the way.

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