Thank you for inviting me to share my experience and witness of the welcome and belonging that Christ calls us to in today’s Gospel.
Jesus tells his followers to go on their way. To bring peace to households and towns. To receive hospitality. To eat what is set before them, to cure the sick, and to share that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
I think about these followers, sent like lambs to the wolves, and am challenged by how I will respond to them? Will I welcome them? Will I judge them? Will I fear them? As people and communities of faith, we are called to welcome each person who enters our doors as carriers of peace and God’s love for us. Each person we encounter, no matter the differences between us, has the potential to be that transformational presence in our lives. To bestow peace upon us and present us with a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
But how do we welcome people? How do we practice hospitality? We start by opening our doors. By creating ramps for some people. By marking our communities as places of welcome with signs that publicly state that all people are welcome. By breaking bread together. By giving witness to people we know, and to people we don’t yet know, our personal experiences of welcome.
An equally important questions I invite us to consider is what are the things that allow us to be welcomed and to experience belonging? At St. Andrew Catholic Church, people experience an initial welcome the first time through the door… this is a big deal. Being able to physically enter a space because of a ramp… this is a big deal. Marking your community with a rainbow flag… this is a big deal. Feeling safe, accepted and appreciated… this is a big deal. Being able to participate fully in liturgies… this is a big deal. Creating adaptive practices for families and children… this is a big deal. Creating ministries that allow people to live out the Gospel values… this is a big deal. And by continuing to welcome, to never stop welcoming the stranger, to never stop welcoming people whose lived experiences may be much different than our own… this is a big deal.
I am here to honor and celebrate everything you do as a community to welcome and help people find belonging. But let’s keep asking ourselves and each other what allows us to experience belonging? Let’s start by openly admitting that it can be a struggle to show up or feel welcomed … I know… I have my own wounds that prevented me from showing up. But as a faith community, I implore you to keep asking these questions: What do I need in order to participate fully? To belong? Am I, and are we, able to ask for what we need? Can we take the time to listen to each other, and to listen more deeply to the hopes and needs of your most marginalized members?
Don’t assume there is anyone here who doesn’t feel marginalized or struggles. Christ sees and knows each of us and our struggles, and Christ embraces them, because our poverty, our brokenness, and our disability is what makes us human.
Being inclusive and welcoming isn’t something we attain and are, but it is a way of listening and praying and paying attention to the changing needs of the people and community around us. Will we continue to adapt, to change, to be the community that each of us needs in order to fully experience the Gospel, the Sacraments, and to experience a sense of belonging to this community? Having witnessed this community from various distances for over the past dozen years, I have great confidence that you will.
In May, L’Arche Portland, a community of people with and without intellectual disabilities who share life together in homes and in relationships, presented St. Andrew Catholic Church with our annual Spirit of L’Arche Award. This is an annual honor given to a person, community or organization that embodies our mission of sharing and announcing the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities. The year’s award is a painting created by the Assistants and Core Members, many who attend St. Andrew every Sunday.
St. Andrews has been a welcoming community for many members of L’Arche over the years… our core members, assistants, volunteers, friends and leaders. You offer a place where we can all be nourished in the Gospel and Sacraments. And you welcome our gifts fully, even when they emerge unexpectantly and spontaneously. You also explore how we can be supported more fully.
We honor you because we believe that our communities need each other. We need St. Andrew to welcome us to participate fully in the life of the Church. And L’Arche Portland will continue to welcome you, to the best of our abilities, as you search for ways and relationships that allow you to live out the Gospel values in your daily life.
When speaking to Fr. Dave about this and hearing his humbly receive the award on your behalf, I was really moved. He said that, "It is humbling to be awarded for something that we receive as a great blessing to our community." Indeed, what a blessing you all are in our lives.
You can often recognize L’Arche gatherings because people are walking around in pairs… much like the disciples that Jesus sent out into the world. I have learned to pay attention and listen deeply to people who experience intellectual disabilities and their friends, and I invite you to continue to take the time to know and listen deeply to them as well. Because when we do, we witness peacemakers and are all given a glimpse of the kingdom of God.