September 08, 2009

Looking Ahead to September 13, 2009 -- 15th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Proverbs 1:20-33
  • Psalm 19 (VU p.740)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 7:24-37

The Hymns this week are:
  • 395 Come In, Come In and Sit Down
  • 713 I See a New Heaven
  • 691 Though Ancient Walls
  • 649 Walk With Me

The Sermon title is: We Need to Include Who???

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to describe our selves as inclusive? Are we aware how well we do that?? Of where we fall short??

As General Council met in Kelowna this past summer the members of the Arctic Commission had this motion on their list of work (it came from Saskatchewan Conference):
That the 40th General Council 2009 adopt a policy that the Session (or Church Board or Church Council), in the exercising its duty of oversight of the order of public worship under 5.10.1 of the Basis of Union, may not discriminate against any group of persons on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, disability or status as divorced persons to the fullest extent, subject only to the laws of Canada, its provinces and territories as may exist from time to time, especially those which protect the vulnerable; and authorize a remit to test the will of the church with respect to this policy.
(There was also a list of "whereas" clauses-- arguments explaining why the proposal was made. You can read them on pages 10 & 11 of this {.pdf} document) So what does it mean?

If passed this proposal would have authorized a poll of the church asking if we wanted to change our constitution to say that all congregations were required to ensure they were open and welcoming to all people, specifically that discrimination (intentional or accidental) was not allowed based on that list of criteria. In some ways this seems common sense -- certainly the church should be as open and welcoming as possible right? In some ways it would be a hard fight -- who is some office somewhere else to tell us how we should operate? ANd certainly it was a major change in how congregations operate. This proposal would require that all church buildings were barrier-free, that people of any race were openly welcomed, that economic status wouldn't be an issue (this is one of the hidden forms of discrimination in many areas of our country), that your marital status (single, married, divorced, living together) would never be an issue, that newcomers were as important as lifelong residents, and that sexual orientation would not bar anyone from any part of church life--including marriage. It was actually suggesting that a great deal of congregational decision-making be taken away. Why would they make such a suggestion? To hear someone from Saskatchewan speak to that question check out this YouTube video.

One of the cherished self-definitions within the United Church of Canada is that we are an "inclusive" church. We like to claim that as some sort of banner or rallying cry. Personally I am not always sure we know what we mean by it. Certinly I think that in many places we do a relatively poor job of living it out. Because of course, it is hard being inclusive. Our old patterns of believing what is appropriate get in the way. The prejudices and biases that we absorb unconsciously get in the way. And in some cses the percieved costs of being truly inclusive scare us away (think of churches trying to become barrier-free for financial issues, or the social stigma suffered by many within the UCCan due to our stand on issues on sexual orientation over the last 20 years). But we are in good company. Even Jesus is not always inclusive.

I encourage you to read the Mark passage for this week carefully. Pay particular attention to what Jesus says to the foreign woman. Does he really say that she is a dog? DOes he really claim that God only sent him to the Chosen people? Why yes he does. JEsus in this story is certainly racist, some have also suggested that he is playing our the chauvinism or misogyny of his time. It really isn't a positive picture we see of JEsus, not all-loving GOd but a frail, biased, discriminatory human, limited by his context and his background.

But of course the story does not end there. The woman stands up for herself and her daughter. And she wins! JEsus recognizes that God's mercy is wider than he thought. Jesus recognizes the GOd is calling hi to a wider field of view. ANd Jesus, to his credit, chages in the light of God's revelation.

Maybe the proposal from Saskatchewan Conference is calling the people of the United Church to seriously consider how wide their field of view is. Maybe we are being urged to ask ourselves what we really mean when we claim to be an inclusive church. Maybe we are being challenged to find ways to ensure that all are welcome, truly welcome, in this place.

It is hard. I know of some congregations that delude themselves. I know that many places truly aren't aware how they exclude some people. I know that some have decided that the costs of change are too big. But we have to take the questions seriously. As it stands, every Pastoral Charge in this conference is now required to answer this question when they produce their Joint Needs Assessment Report when beginning the search for ministry personnel:
THe United church believes that God calls people of all races, ethnicities, abilities and orientations to ministry. Are there any theological or physical factors that would prevent you from welcoming any such persons to your Ministry site? Please specify and include your rationale.
THis is a harder question than it seems. How would you answer it about the church you now attend? About other churches you have attended? How would you like to answer it? Inclsivity, to be meaningful, has to be shown in how we live and not just in words that we say. And yes, it is a hard thing to do at times.

Oh and what happened with the proposal? Well you will have to come on Sunday to find out.

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