The Musings of Jeff Doucette


Are there any borders you do not dare cross as a welcoming church?

Posted by jeffdoucette on May 24, 2017 at 11:20 AM

The absence of hospitality and affirmation block the kingdom of God.

         Bishop Yvette Flunder at the Festival of Homiletics 2017


We need to build wells not walls.

             Rev. Anna Carter-Florence at Festival of Homiletics 2017


If we do not preach what is happening around us then we have either checked out or do not pay attention.    Rev. Amy Butler at Festival of Homiletics 2017


Think of a time when you felt on the outside, unwelcome, unnoticed, ignored, looked at, judged, evaluated, laughed at, dismissed. Describe the situation in your mind and sit with it for a moment. How did that make you feel?

This past week I attended the annual Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio, Texas. I was one of 1800 registered for this delicious smorgasbord of preaching and worship and music and conversation. The theme for the week was “Preaching on the Borders”. It was a time to sit back and reflect on ministry, on being church, on preaching, on attitudes of our congregations and ourselves as ministers and preachers.

We heard various scriptures passages from The Good Samaritan to the Woman at the Well to the Prodigal Son to Jesus being turned away from his home village to the woman born bent over to various of the Epistle writers. It was wonderful to sit back and let someone else prepare worship and a sermon. But that did not mean we had it easy…for the topics preached upon were meant to challenge and nourish us and get us to ask questions about the state of our congregation’s sense of welcome as well as our preaching. We were asked point blank how far we would be willing to go in our preaching? Did we dare cross borders like Jesus with our church families? Or were we worried we might rile them up? We were challenged to look at our own preaching and how we approach Scripture and how we engage conversations with our people.

Two weeks ago I preached on the story of Jesus as gate to the sheep and challenged you my own church family to seriously and honestly ask ourselves just how truly welcoming we really were. To ask ourselves what we do when we hear stories of people being hurt by our words and actions, who chose to leave and not come back or stay away or leave various committees. And to be honest if you remember that morning I was a little scattered before the service, and you might have noticed that I wrote my sermon out which is highly unusual for me. But I had something to say and I was nervous as I wrote my sermon and I was worried about how people might react. That is what happens when you ask people you love to be accountable for words and actions.

I remember last year that I was told in my evaluation by M and P that some (never know how many and yes I can share this because it was said about me and my right to share it with you) wanted me to stop talking about the Affirming process. My reaction to them was the following: “So let me get this straight…I have been asked to stop talking about the Affirming process. Now you hired me to be the minister of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care of this congregation. So lets look at what that means. The Affirming process is about asking us to look deeply and honestly at ourselves and our church family to see how we welcome everyone…okay. Now let’s look at my job description. Minister of Word means I preach the word of God which is a series of biblical books that talk about God’s hospitality and love to us without any ifs or buts or conditions. Minister of Sacrament means celebrating with you our two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, which by the way are sacraments of welcome and inclusion. Minister of Pastoral Care is to look after not only the wellbeing and care of our church family but also for those wherever I go and whomever I meet. So you see my whole ministry is embodying the Affirming process…so no I will not stop talking about it.” My preaching can be compromised: (1) If I want peace fearing conflict (2) If I struggle with insecurity and want to be liked more than preach about difficult issues.

In my sharing with other minister colleagues, we all feel the same so often. We struggle with our self image as ministers, whether we are doing enough and whether it is good enough. As someone so wonderfully said at the Festival this week…”the longest walk I take as minister is from my chair to the pulpit”. We try week after week to welcome you, to nourish you, to walk with you in all you live. We try to bring the gospel to life, to make space for you and hope to show you God.

But the church community is but a part of my ministry. I also walk with various outside moments as church. I walk with PFLAG Durham and the LGBTQ community and have been building relationship with them. I walk with the Pickering Islamic Center and the Durham Muslim Moms in building friendships and walk in the footsteps of justice with them. I walk with Faith and Light as chaplain to families with members with developmental disabilities. I walk with the Roman Catholic Women Priest movement in their march for justice and inclusion. I walk with families who grieve but have no church affiliation through local funeral homes.

We had been asked so many times how far we were willing to go as pastors over the border to meet people where they were and to listen to them and their stories. So often I hear “We could cure our finances if we could just get more people in our pews…” And I think…”So you want people so they can give you money?” We become so preoccupied thinking the role of the gospel and my preaching is to get people to give money so we can build buildings and fix leaks. But my preaching is meant to reach out to hearts not wallets. I often wish we just met in a field or a back yard or a park…and the gospel was about our hearts. Our energies go into finances so often that we miss the point of the gospel.

I told different people in Texas that by times I had to meet for a committee meeting in our office administrator’s office and smiled. I was not complaining…even though it drives me when I hear complaints from some in our church who do. It means our church is busy welcoming people. And we are. We have a weekend respite program for families with children on the Autism spectrum. We have a tutoring group that works with young people, we give space to local Afghan women to learn English. We offer space for one who teaches children and adults to paint. We give space to the local scouting movement. We have space for one other church who worship in our space and soon we will welcome the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement who are starting a new community from our church. We have a Martial Arts Dojo that use our space, a yoga group and a daycare downstairs. The local Afghan community use our space often for their gatherings. We host the annual Rotary music festival and various concerts. This is crossing borders and welcoming people from all walks of life for various reasons. I am sure I am missing something.

But welcoming is more than just rental to pay for costs…it is building relationships in the community, it is opening our doors to people and welcoming them. But it is also looking at how we welcome those who come through our doors…those who are already here…those who have not been around for a while or even have faded away.

It is about challenging our attitudes and asking ourselves if we are living up to the gospel call to biblical hospitality. It is about asking how we respond to people on the borders, on the margins. It is about asking ourselves if we have driven people back across borders so that we have a safer distance. It is about checking our privilege and yes we have privilege as church. It is about listening to where we are being called to go as disciples and to ask if we are willing to relocate because of the gospel. By that I mean to leave our comfortable space to relocate to where we find ourselves face to face with someone in need.

Rev. Anna Florence-Carter said “We need to build more wells, not walls. We need wells where deep conversations can happen”. This can only happen when people feel safe and welcomed and have that sacred space to open up their story and feel God and a community who welcome them.

Rev. Will Wilimon said it best “The best times in ministry is when Jesus kicked, prodded and pulled me over the border. Can you say the same thing about your discipleship? Because if not, then you are missing out on something. He then proceeded to tell us about going to a Jesus Rave with young adults and also to Saturday night Drag Queen Bingo…now that is some serious border crossing.

I would love to keep this conversation going…maybe a one on one coffee or maybe a coffee group…send me a note. I would love to cross the border with you.




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