Wednesday, January 15, 2020

January Newsletter

Through Faith, we walk on the path that Jesus set for us.
The people of St. Paul’s Belong…Believe…Love… Listen…Lead.

How do you know if you really belong somewhere? Is there a way of measuring it? Or is it more of a feeling?

One way to measure belonging is by membership. If you are a member than you belong. I think that is only true to a point. Certainly that is how structures may define ‘belong’ but it is overly simplistic. I have been places where the organization may have said I was a member, that I belonged and did not always feel like I did. I have also been places where people certainly felt they belonged but had no interest in being members.

Looking at my life I think feeling that I belong somewhere has a number of sides. One is “do I agree with what this organization/group believes or is all about?”. We may be fully welcomed in but if we feel out of step with the values of the group, or the members of the group, we may not feel like we truly belong there. It is hard to be the minority voice in a place. And let us be honest: no place is the right place for everybody.

Another aspect of belonging, in my mind, is “am I actually allowed to be myself here?”. If I am different in some way is that allowed? If I am in a place where the answer is no I will never feel that I belong, even if I am inducted into membership, or given a job, or placed on the Board. I may stay but it will be in a state of tension. An associated point is “do they really want me here for me or just for the skills and energy and labour I bring to the table?”. There was a time when being asked to be on a committee or help with an event was the way a newcomer knew they had truly become welcome in a church community. These days I think there is a bit more skepticism on that account.

A third aspect I want to highlight is “are they really letting me in?”. Are people drawing their circles wider to make room or do I feel like I am crashing the party? Sometimes the circle is kept closed in a very intentional fashion. But I believe that more often than not the people in the circle think that it is wide open when to the outsider it looks very different. Many of us don’t want to be the party-crasher. We may not want effusive, over-the-top welcomes but we want to feel that we are not poking in somebody else’s private space.

What makes you feel like you do (or do not) belong in the St. Paul’s community? How has/does that change over time?

I think it interesting that we begin our list of words with Belong. To me it says that we are first and foremost a community. Starting with Believe might say something different. But Belong says to me that we want to be seen as welcoming, as a place where the circle can always be drawn wider, a place where people can find a home.

And yet I wonder. Does everyone feel that they belong here? Does everyone feel welcome here? And I know that we who are already here can not answer those questions with full accuracy. We would like to believe that the answer is yes but we can’t know for sure. We need to be intentional at connecting with the people who are not represented in our midst to know for sure. There are a couple of ways we can do that. One would be to use the materials and self-study that are prepared by Affirm United for ministries wanting to declare themselves as Affirming.

To be honest I think we are more welcoming than other churches, even other United Churches, I have known. But if we claim that Belonging is a key value, and I think we do, we need to have the courage to explore what that means. And we need the courage to adapt to become more welcoming if that is what our exploration tells us is needed. Having new people join our community will change our community. That may be a good thing.

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