I was spending the late afternoon before the June 2018 UU Minister’s Association Ministry Days exploring the hotel and riding the escalators with my 3 and 4 year old children while we waited for the Opening Reception (“party” to my children).
While in the bathroom, my 3 year old asked why there wasn’t a stool so he could reach the sink. “I guess they aren’t expecting children,” I replied. “Why aren’t they expecting children?” my 4 year old asked insistently. None of my guesses satisfied either child.
My children still notice if there’s a stool or not. A few days ago the younger one returned from a restaurant bathroom exclaiming joyfully “They’re expecting children!”
It makes a difference to know you’re expected.
When my children notice the absence or presence of a stool in a bathroom it reminds me of all the ways we can communicate we expect someone. Ramps into buildings and pulpits. High chairs in fellowship halls. A space for children in the sanctuary. Large print orders of service. Pronoun stickers for name badges. A gender neutral bathroom with clear signage. Accessibility devices for those who have trouble hearing the service. A calmer, quieter room near the sanctuary with the sound piped in for anyone who needs it—for sensory overstimulation, easier hearing, or a baby insisting on crawling and climbing. And so much more.
Some of these things can be challenging for congregations to set up, especially in older buildings. And there are always new ways to communicate welcome we haven’t learned yet and might need someone to point out to us. Still, the effort is worth it because it makes a difference to know you’re expected—and you can do the things you need to do; get into the building, read the order of service, even wash your own hands.
Now, before fall, I invite you to take a look around your building and your Sunday morning experience. Maybe bring a friend for their newcomer eyes or ask others in your community with needs different than yours. What does your space communicate about who you are expecting? Are there people you want to feel welcome, but it’s not clear you’re expecting them? It could be that there are some small changes that would make a big difference, like the difference a stool in the bathroom makes to my children.
For even deeper inclusion, check out CB Beal’s work. CB Beal teaches a concept they call “pre-emptive radical inclusion.” They did a fabulous keynote address at our 2019 Seaway Gathering. Watch a snippet of them introducing the idea of pre-emptive radical inclusion. They’re also a consultant you can hire to come work with your congregation.