Monthly Archives: February 2011

All Are Welcome?

This blog has been a while in the writing, so its not quite recent anymore, but I still felt I needed to say it.

In church last week we sang All Are Welcome, one of my favourite songs from the Common Ground songbook (the full lyrics are part way down this page), which was the first hymn at our wedding, so it now has added special meaning. We chose this song and put it at the start of the service very deliberately, because we wanted to say this to everyone there, regardless of age, faith (or none), gender, sexual orientation or any other factor. We wanted to get rid of all the preconcieved ideas anyone might have had about what was expected of them or anyone else, or of how ‘the church’ saw or would judge them. Here is a place where we come as we are, with all that that means, and its ok. The first verse goes like this:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

These seem to me to be the kinds of aspirations Jesus would teach us to work for. A place where “all can safely live”, where saints and children each have something to teach us, and where everyones hopes and dreams are valued. “here the love of Christ shall end divisions” In this place, all distinctions, all differences, are stripped away, for we are all equal within the love of God and in Gods eyes.

It struck me even more recently, that the church, while we might have these aspirations, very often doesn’t meet them. The frequency with which churches determine who is or isn’t welcome, and erect barriers between different groups and denominations. Far from the love of Christ ending divisions, it appears to create them, as we decide for ourselves what God would think, and who he would welcome into his Churches. I believe this is wrong, that it is the worst kind of wrong that we can commit, particularly when it is done in the name of Jesus, who I don’t believe would agree with it any more than I do. And if he would, I’m not sure he is a God I want to follow.

But while all these things are happening, there are also things which restore my faith and pursuade me that God is working in people’s lives and bringing his message to us. I know of people who will take a stand to prevent such hurt and pain being felt by their fellow people, and to make sure the message passed on to our children is one of tolerance and welcome not of exclusion.

And the other week I saw via a number of links the image of Christians protecting Muslims at prayer during the protests in Egypt. I took notice- it was a striking image of the love of God at work, of a group of Christians acting on their beliefs. But then later, as I was thinking again about the song, and the line ‘the love of Christ shall end divisions’ came back to me, I realised that it shouldn’t be striking. Why is it that a group of Christians acting to protect another group of people when they are vulnerable should be news worthy, even within the church community? Shouldn’t this be ‘normal’? Isn’t this how we should live our faith?

The God I believe in and try to follow told us that we should love others as we would want to be loved. There weren’t any conditions on that, no footnote with exceptions. Just love.

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayer of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

A wedding story. Part 1

Well we did it, we got married!! Its taken me this long to stop and think and be able to put it down here. But if I’m honest, one of the things that’s stopped me writing till now is being unable to find the words.

We really did have the most wonderful day. I’d even go so far as to say it was perfect. Not that everything was exactly ideal, if it was the day would have been a lot longer, the sun would have shone a bit brighter and we’d have had more time to talk to everyone. But everything went perfectly, smoothly, and the whole thing was exactly what we’d hoped for. How can I even hope to describe it? I’ve tried, in more words than I thought, to describe the day from the beginning, as much for me to remember as for the curiosity of whoever’s reading..

The morning itself came cloudy and a bit grey (but brightened up later!). We were certain we wanted to be together the night before, and didn’t even consider not being. We went to sleep saying ‘ooh its tomorrow’ and woke up and whispered ‘we’re getting married today!!’ with little excited squeaks, which was the best start to the day. Then we had a lovely breakfast with four good friends, my two bridesmaids and their other halves, sharing croissants, jam and coffee and gently waking up. It was really nice to be with friends, people we could relax with, which made it feel so natural, even if still a little surreal.

We girls went off to the hairdressers, the boys went to pick up the flowers and then to their hotel. We had a lovely time having our hair done and nattering about this and that! When we got back we did make-up and had a giggle or two, before the photographer arrived, closely followed by my parents. Tea was made, sandwiches were brought out, and all was impressively calm. With a bit of laughter. I was enjoying it all already- thinking about the day ahead, but just loving spending time with the people around me. My dad making tea, mum holding the dress up while it had its photo taken! Then I decided it was time to put my dress on, so I did. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and just thought ‘yes, this is exactly right’. I make me sound so calm, inside I was just bouncing and beaming all at once, but so excited.

We travelled to the church all together in a taxi- I decided I wasn’t going to spend money on a big car that no one but us would see- which was pre-booked and all fine until we got in and the driver turned to me and said ‘where to?’ I nearly said ‘do I look like I have a map on me?!’ A quick consultation with a smart phone and the church postcode was retrieved and we were on our way! Leaving 45 mins I thought would be plenty of time to get into central London- it was, we were there in 25, 20 mins early! So we got to sit and wait and watch all the guests arriving from across the road which was lovely! About 10 mins before the service was due to start we pulled up outside again, extracted me from the car, and then it was nearly time.

I had a brief flutter of butterflies just as we were round the corner from the church, but by the time I was standing outside, I couldn’t think what there was to be nervous about- I knew I was marrying the right person, all our friends and family were there with us, I was looking forward to every bit of the day. Just so exciting, I was just drinking in every last bit of it!

Then I think I decided it was time to go in, so we got ourselves in order, and away we went! My mum first with Benjamin carrying his precious box with our rings in, then Pippa and Jeni, and then it was my turn, with my dad beside me. Not giving me away, just sharing it with me. Everyone at the back turning round and smiling, so much happiness and support in one church was just amazing, and then when we rounded the corner at the back of the aisle and Chris came into view, and I just beamed. Having watched a video of this bit I can see from my face the very moment our eyes met!

At the front of the church we nervously whispered hello and ‘you look lovely’ and so on, and then relaxed when Sue leaned over and said ‘you can hold hands you know!’ And then it began. The service was taken by Richard, and the sermon preached by James, Chris’ university chaplain, with Sue, the minister at Hinde Street, opening and closing and doing the official bit! The readings were given, and prayers written and read, by those we care about, and the whole thing just felt so personal to us, which we weren’t the only ones to appreciate. Instead of the ‘who gives this woman/man’ line, each set of parents made a promise to support us both in our marriage, symbolising our choice to marry each other, and our parents support of that.

Standing opposite Chris saying our vows, with Richard prompting us, just felt so relaxed that my only fear was taking it too lightly! We had a whole church watching, but right then, we could have been the only people there. After the ‘I know proclaim that they are husband and wife’ bit, Richard gave me a hug and shook Chris’ hand. We had a lovely and thoughtful sermon from James. The hymns were just right and were sung with gusto! And the whole service went by far too quickly, as weddings tend to. Before we knew it we were signing the register and having photos taken, and on our way out! At the back of the church madness descended as everyone wanted to say congratulations, and there was much hugging and hand shaking and merriment, until the ever-efficient ushers began herding encouraging people towards the big red Routemaster buses and we made our way to our own car- our chance to have some us time in the middle of the day. We settled in, smiled for a few more photos as the photographer tried to get some from the front passenger seat, and then we were off. Waving at everyone and grinning manically.

This was when I told Chris the taxi driver didn’t know where he was going and that I’d arrived 20 mins early, which he countered with telling me they’d left the rings behind the first time they left the hotel.. alls well that ends well!