This Sunday’s observance of St. Bart’s Day will be a joyful celebration of who we are as a community. After the 9 am and 11 am services, the St. Bart’s Fair will offer an opportunity to learn about the many facets of life at St. Bart’s. Our 8 am service will return, our 11 am service will incorporate music by former Organist and Choirmasters of St. Bart’s, and our 5 pm service will include new prayers written especially for use in the evening. Meanwhile, our 9 am service will feature the return of the St. Bart’s Singers, the choir that sings weekly at that service but hasn’t been doing so since March 2020.
At the offertory this Sunday, the Singers will present “All Are Welcome,” a late twentieth century hymn by Minnesota composer Marty Haugen (preview it here). It surprised me to learn that Haugen’s hymn has not been sung at St. Bart’s in recent years, or perhaps ever. In many ways, Haugen’s hymn embodies the inclusive spirit for which St. Bart’s has long been known. Its repeated (and iconic) declarations of God’s welcome recall the “Radical Welcome” tagline that has been used here for over two decades.
Radical Welcome as an idea has radiated far beyond St. Bart’s, appealing to a wide variety of different Christian communities (The Reverend Canon Stephanie Spellers, a frequent guest of St. Bart’s, wrote a book 15 years ago about Radical Welcome, which is being re-released in November). But enacting Radical Welcome in practice is easier said than done. A number of questions arise, such as: Is it enough to welcome people if we do not work to fully include them? Should we alter our approach if, by welcoming some people, we make others feel unsafe or uncomfortable? Does a focus on welcoming guests into the church building hinder us from orienting ourselves outward towards doing God’s mission in the world? What does welcome look like in a digital age? Is welcome too small a goal if transformation should really be our aim?
These are all good questions to ask, and yet I think St. Bart’s is right to be proud of its continued commitment to welcoming all. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus tells us. Whether or not welcome is the be-all and end-all, it’s an awfully good start. I, for one, will be beaming underneath my mask as the Singers proclaim, again and again: “All are welcome in this place!”
The Reverend Peter D. Thompson