I’ve been thinking a lot about walls and barriers in recent days, as have many of us, I suspect. Many years ago, the church I’m serving determined that it needed to correct the physical barriers that prevented people from accessing the fullness of church life. When the building was erected in the 1930s, we didn’t think about the folks that couldn’t walk up stairs or easily move from one floor to another . So the church built an exterior ramp to the front door, and eventually tore down a significant part of the church itself, so that an elevator could be installed and some of the space could be reconfigured to make it more easily accessible by whomever would want to use the building.
Years after that was accomplished, the church realized that there were other barriers that prevented folks from coming in. These barriers weren’t physical, but rather spiritual. The church underwent several years of study and thought and prayer, and decided that it would become “Open and Affirming.” The title was given by our denomination to those churches that made a clear statement of non-discrimination against any person, but especially tearing down the barriers that prevented people who are part of the LGBTQ community from feeling welcome in a Christian community of faith. It’s a long journey to move from one place to another in our thinking and connection with our faith understandings.
It has been a joy for me to watch many of the people I know and love blossom in faith where they and all of their gifts are welcome not only in our church, but in our community and our world. My idea of God’s kingdom, or God’s realm, is a place where all people — no matter their race, nationality, heritage, sexual orientation, physical or intellectual conditions — are welcomed, where all their gifts are used and accepted and where all have the opportunity to live and flourish as God’s children in peace and harmony with one another. In the very real world in which we now live, this truly seems like an impossible dream, and it seems unrealistic to even think it’s possible. Am I really just a dreamer?
In the Hebrew scriptures there are many texts that speak to providing a place and care for all kinds of people, but most especially for those who are poor, oppressed and unable to provide for themselves. The New Testament Jesus is someone who deliberately went out of his way to break down walls and barriers by associating with those who were deemed sinners or “tainted” by some label because of their location, their place in life or their history. Jesus went out of his way to associate with those who were outcasts of their society, with those who appeared to have little hope or could not fend for themselves.
In these very difficult times, when we look around and see divisive and exclusionary walls and barriers being erected, deliberately meant to keep out those labeled as unacceptable or covered with broad prejudicial brush strokes because of a very few bad actors, our faith is being tested. Whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim or many other faiths, none of us wants to live in a place where we are rejected for simply being who we are. I am continually reminded that we all were aliens and strangers in this land at one time. Unless we are Native American, all of us in this land are the children of immigrants of one era or another. And we all are children of a God who relentlessly moves us to places where we may find hope and new life. May we remember that and push for the removal of walls and barriers that would prevent the people of our day and time from finding new life. It’s who we are called to be as God’s people. May we welcome all who seek freedom and new life and know that in so doing, we are living out God’s vision for all people.
The Rev. Ann Graves is the transitional pastor at Faith United Church of Christ. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.