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08 September 2017

Will we widen the boundaries of welcome?

Will we widen the boundaries of welcome?

Haydon Spenceley is a musician, writer and curate in the Church of England.

More than once recently, I've found myself wondering: do I prefer fear or love? Will I remember that perfect love casts out all fear?

Given the level of rhetoric on all sides of our political debates, the temptation to be driven by fear of the unknown, the "other", can be strong. There's a challenge to me and all of us here: the regularly-asked, "who is my neighbour?" question, and the even more crucial question of who is 'in' or 'out' - and who gets to decide.

This Sunday, many churches around the country will mark Ability Sunday. One of the key aims of Ability Sunday is to promote participation in the life of the Church and community for all. This is a 'beyond inclusion' situation. To 'include' or 'exclude' we have to first assume that we are the ones who have the power to make the decision on who is included. Our church will be reading and learning about Bartimaeus, whose story we read in Mark 10:46-52. He was an outsider, someone on the margins. The story reminds us that Jesus went to the socially-created margins and broke down every barrier that might have kept Bartimaeus from a relationship with God. Jesus brought Bartimaeus in to the centre of the new community of faith Jesus was building, reaching beyond the comfortable confines of the established religious culture.

We often focus on Bartimaeus' healing – his being given his sight – but there's more to the story than that. The story is actually much more about being invited into participation in a kingdom into which all of us have at one time been foreigners in a strange land, who have been adopted as children of God. Whatever our families are like we have been adopted into a new family too. All of us were homeless, without hope. Now we and all people have been offered all this, a home, hope and a secure future in the love of God, as Bartimaeus was. The invitation to all of us who have accepted this great gift is to pass it on and share it as widely as we possibly can.

It is often said that churches should be more representative in their membership and ministry of the breadth and diversity of our society. This can come about. But, it begins with individual choices that I make, that you make, to have empathy, be hospitable, to be sacrificial, reaching out to all people with the good news of Jesus Christ. And we should remember that all of us needed someone (at least one someone) to do it for us once. So does everybody else.

Ability Sunday is a great opportunity to widen the boundaries of welcome, to invite those on the margins towards the kingdom. Will we choose to cast out fear of those who are different, on the margins of our society, unknown to us, welcoming them in the name of Jesus?

You can find out more about Ability Sunday via the Livability website.