What does it mean to be radically welcoming?
When folks who have never heard about UUism find their way into our congregations, for many it’s a sudden “I’m home!” feeling. And that’s often accompanied by the question “Why didn’t anyone tell me about UUism before?” Being radically welcoming means that we understand that we are a great religious fit for many people, and that we’re not just willing to “let in” those who are “like us,” but we find ways to make sure that we welcome all people fully.
This means that folks don’t have to hide parts of themselves. Whether they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning—they are welcome here. Whether their skin color is the same as others in the congregation or not—they are welcome here. Whatever their politics, whatever their specific theology, as long as they feel at home with our Principles, they are welcome. And so on, with all the differences we can name.
Radical welcoming extends beyond simply letting folks in the door. It also means that the congregation is willing to be changed by those who come in. In the hymn “Bring Many Names” (#23 in our Singing the Living Tradition, words by Brian Wren), there is this verse about God “Young, growing God, eager still to know, willing to be changed by what you’ve started, quick to be delighted, singing as you go: hail and hosanna, young growing God!” That verse captures for me what it means to be radically welcoming—that we are willing to be changed by what we’ve started (the congregation), that we’re excited about the possibilities in front of us, and welcoming of change. It means opening up the doors not only of our sanctuaries and meeting rooms, but also the doors of our leadership, faith development, and cultural expectations. We’re willing and delighted to bring new people into leadership and encouraging of their revisioning and revising “the way things are done around here.” You never hear “But we’ve never done that before,” or “That’s not how we do it here.” Instead, we say “Gosh, we’ve never thought of it like that before—I wonder how that would work!” We welcome the ideas, the thoughts, the possibilities that others bring.
And it means that we understand we don’t all see the world the same way—that our brains function differently, and so we try to make all things accessible. Whether that’s our classrooms or our worship spaces, we provide a welcome. We try to use a “universal design” mentality—where we create programs and processes and policies that allow everyone access. Like curb cuts that were initially designed for people with mobility limitations and are now used by everyone; that’s the mindset we should use when we are designing anything in our congregation.
Radical hospitality is when we say “All are welcome,” and we do that without restrictions. Sure, there is behavior that is not appropriate—anything that harms the vulnerable (and not-so-vulnerable) amongst us needs to be curbed. (And that is, actually, part of radical hospitality because it says we value people enough to keep you all safe by limiting destructive behavior.) But beyond that, you are welcome not just to be like us, but to help us change to be more open and “like you,” whoever that may be.