This one is a potential minefield of issues and observations that could surprise the diligent worship team attempting to capture James’s central point. James points out the economic distinctions that we are all too likely to make in our hospitality ministry. But it wouldn’t be too big a leap to talk about racial and immigrant and gender and orientation distinctions at the same time. This is not, however, a recommendation to avoid the issues We are called to speak up and to follow the boldness of James and talk about the lines of respectability that we too often draw, consciously or unconsciously. It is better to enter into these delicate subjects knowingly than to be surprised.
How do we proclaim inclusion, particularly in what are often homogeneous congregations? One way would be to look at the source of the words that you use for worship. We offer, in our liturgical resources, liturgies from a wide spectrum of writers and encourage you to look at the source of the prayers and litanies and songs that you choose for worship. Who is given a voice in your worship setting? Is it only those who look like you? How might other voices be heard?
Ruth Duck, in her book Worship for the Whole People of God (Westminster/JKP, 2021, 2nd ed.), points out that to sing a song from another culture as a one-off is not as welcoming as we might think. It would be better to become familiar with the songs even before seeing them as invitational (See Chapter 3, “Diverse Worship”, pp.51-55). The purpose of broadening our horizons is not only to be appealing to others, but to increase our own understanding and experience of the world. This enables us to see commonalities and connections and lessens our desire to make distinctions between cultures and peoples.
How can worship bridge the gaps that we have begun to take for granted in our world? What symbols can convey reaching across the aisle or tearing down the walls that separate us? Maybe the hospitality team could take the lead in this worship experience to talk to us about what it means to welcome and to include. What priorities help us overcome the distinctions that we might unthinkingly make? Let this be a worship experience of reconciliation, not just between individuals, but between the church and world, between economic status, between races, between orientations. Let’s tear down what divides and invite all into the discipleship journey so that we can be forgiven and transformed.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.