It is not uncommon for churches to begin the worship service with some kind of statement of welcome. Hospitality, welcoming the friend and the stranger is very much a part of what it is to be a faith community. Creating a welcoming space in a world that seems to be gravitating more and more towards fear and alienation, is at the heart of what church is to be all about, I believe.
But the words of welcome here at the Union Church are not just a statement about the practice of hospitality. The words of welcome carry an echo of something much deeper and speak to a key aspect of our foundational identity.
Back in 1904, a small group of Waban residents began worshiping above what is now Starbucks. They wanted to be part of a worshiping community that did not define itself by denominational allegiance but rather by a commitment to being a place of welcome for all. This is what they saw Jesus doing and wanted to commit themselves to do the same.
This was pretty remarkable in a time when, as the story goes, denominational allegiance was pretty fierce with a fair amount of territorialism across, not only interfaith lines, but ecumenical ones as well.
The founders of what would go on to become the Union Church in Waban envisioned something different. Here is how Rev. Charles, H. Cutler (the first settled minister of the Union Church in Waban) described this welcoming impulse in a sermon entitled “The Inclusive Church” that he delivered on Sunday morning, November the first 1925.
“Gathered in this household of faith from a great variety of denominational traditions and associations, for some of us were Baptists, or Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarians, or Congregationalists, though for the most part we forget it and you all look alike to me – our family life has been all the richer and more interesting. We know perfectly well that there are lots of matters of opinion and belief concerning which no majority of us would be agreed at all – but what of it? And so, for one thing, we have been standing for tolerance in religious opinion – a tolerance which comes not from mere indifference but which maintains “in non-essentials, liberty; in essentials, unity; in all things charity.”
Perhaps we may say that the Idea of the Union Church in Waban is the principle of an Inclusive Church based upon the simplest terms of Christian discipleship.The inclusive church makes discipleship to Jesus central and fundamental and welcomes, yes, claims, everybody who wants to “keep fellowship with Jesus and to learn how to life.”
Now — here we are, in 2018 close to 100 years later standing up every Sunday morning affirming this core aspect of our foundational identity in our words of welcome. We are an inclusive faith community because we believe that church should not just be a place of hospitality, but that it should be a place of belonging. Here at the Union Church in Waban we affirm that everyone who gathers matters. Here people belong. It is my sincerest hope and prayer, that everyone who comes through the doors of this church feel held, treasured and loved.
So next time you hear these the Words of Welcome or speak them yourself, remember this deep and rich history of inclusion that is ours. I find Rev. Cutler’s words of so long ago incredibly timely still and feel deeply grateful to be a part of welcoming community that continues to stand not just for tolerance I would say but for the treasuring of all God’s children.