Our third core value of welcoming is lived out when we "cultivate inclusion." Our inclusion statement says: "As Everybody's Church we strive to be a faithful and inclusive community. We welcome the participation of all people of any ability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other life circumstance."
Throughout Jesus' ministry the twelve disciples were constantly trying to decide who was in (themselves) and who was out (women, children and foreigners, to name a few). In the minds of the disciples this practice of exclusion made sense. Their identity as Jews, as God's people, was under attack from the onslaught of the Greco-Roman culture. Without some boundaries they would be assimilated into a culture which would bring an end, or so they thought, to their faith. By maintaining clear boundaries of who was in (holy, acceptable) and who was not (unclean, unacceptable) they believed they were protecting their God and their faith.
Jesus however had other ideas. Jesus' vision was one of God's kingdom that was large and not small; growing and not retreating; welcoming and not rejecting. God's kingdom did not need walls to keep people out; it needed a welcoming community to invite people in because by so doing God's kingdom would assimilate the world, rather than be assimilated by it. We see this in Jesus' welcoming children, speaking with foreigners (Samaritans and Greeks), healing the unclean, eating with sinners and tax collectors, and in the conversation with the woman at the well, doing all of the above. Jesus' teachings and actions demonstrated a welcome that was unheard of during his lifetime.
The early church took this welcoming vision to heart and grew rapidly because of it. The church welcomed Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, slave and free, Romans and pagans. Each person was intentionally welcomed into the community as a brother or sister with no distinctions for wealth or rank…and when such distinctions were made (see the Book of James) the leaders of the church upbraided those who treated persons differently or excluded some based on worldly condition or position. People flocked to the church because in the welcome of Christ they found out that they were valued and loved by God.
The PCUSA Book of Order puts it this way:
"The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks: a new openness in its own membership, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, ethnicities, and worldly conditions, made one in Christ by the power of the Spirit, as a visible sign of the new humanity; (F-1.0404)
The challenge for us at First Presbyterian is to continue to make welcome more than a vision. We have made an excellent beginning, now we need to continue to explore God's calling to open our doors and our hearts to all.