I think I know why some people give church a miss. They are looking for an ‘inn on the way’ and fear the church is a ‘moated fort’.
An inn is a meeting place for people on a journey. It’s a place to share stories, compare maps, warn of dangers and enjoy a good meal. It’s open to everyone and judged by the quality of its welcome. You can have a good time in an inn. All life is there. It’s a place on the way to a better destination.
A fortress could not be more different. It’s place to retreat to and shut out the world; where only ‘insiders’ are welcome and everyone else is seen as a threat. It’s a place to receive instructions but not ask questions. There are guards on the gates, barricades and moats; all manner of shibboleths to keep the insiders in and the outsiders out. Is that what you fear of church? Perhaps you have been right. That makes me sad.
My whole adult life I have chosen to be a part of a church. Today, I help lead 2 congregations in the East End. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see these communities behave like inns – ‘welcoming the stranger’ in night-shelters, ‘feeding the hungry’ in food banks, ‘visiting the prisoners’ by including those who struggle with hurts, habits and hang-ups. The church is a place to share stories, ask questions, seek truth, listen and question; a place to re-read ancient words and listen for the Word to speak to us today. It’s a movement of people drawn into God’s promised future, not a monument to the past. I love being in church. It feeds me nourishing promises and, yes, I even have a good time there.
This week, the Church of England questions whether a person’s sexuality is ground to exclude them from full participation in church life. I pray they choose to be an inn. Richard Hooker, one of the Founding Fathers of their denomination, reputedly prayed: ‘I pray that none will be offended if I seek to make the Christian religion an inn where all are received joyously, rather than a cottage where some few friends of the family are to be received.’
(This post was inspired by a sermon given by Jayne Ozanne, which can be read here http://www.jayneozanne.com/)