You are welcome
On the front of our church just now we have a large, friendly sign displaying the times of all our Easter services. At the bottom of the poster it says ‘you are welcome to all these services’. On Sunday evening a lady with her small toddler enquired whether the welcome included her. Not surprisingly the stewards assured her that it did – and so she came in with her lively toddler. People did their utmost to make both of them feel at home, and rose to the challenge at a service normally geared for adult reflection rather than toddler occupation. This, surely, is what the word ‘welcome’ on the poster meant?
The thing is, although we set very high store by the church’s welcome, we are nonetheless nervous about the world seeping in through the porous walls of the church. We can maintain our welcome just so long as we control our ‘output’ to the world. In other words, people are welcome to share what we have, but an interaction going the other way feels decidedly more risqué. Later on this year we are holding a graffiti workshop here as part of our Biblefresh programme, and the graffiti art will be indoors. Why so? So that people won’t deface it, and also so that they don’t feel inclined to add to it by putting graffiti anywhere else on the building.
These are sensible decisions, of course, but they challenge our ideas of boundaries and protection. Earlier this year American artist Candy Chang set up a project on the side of a disused building in New Orleans. On it members of the public were invited to express their hopes and dreams about the future by completing the sentence ‘before I die’. Within days there were people adding enthusiastically to it, as you can see below.
Would we, could we, ever consider placing such a thing on the outside of a church, I wonder?