by Kristin Fontaine
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
In the last week I finished making a memory quilt out of t-shirts my mom had collected and saved over the years. Her shirt collection is a mix of Episcopal, camp, social justice, and baseball slogans.
It took me about 50 hours to make the quilt and during a significant portion of that I ended up reading and rereading the slogans on her shirts.
Two of them in particular resonated with me, both because of the saying on them and because I lived through the times they were printed in.
The first is a black shirt that quotes The Rt Rev Edmond Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (1985-1997). The full quote is:
I want to be very clear: This church of ours is open to all — there will be no outcasts — the convictions and hopes of all will be honored.
The shirt’s vivid pink lettering boils the quote down to
This church of ours is open to all — there will be no outcasts with “no outcasts” in bold type.
The second shirt is red with white lettering and says
Here I am — Send Me — I am a witness to God’s inclusive love. These two shirts are from the General Conventions spanning the era of 1985 to 2009 when my mom was a regular delegate from Wyoming to General Convention.
They still speak to me today because they show how much work being intentionally welcoming can be. These shirts were intended to be worn in public at gatherings of fellow Episcopalians to show support for a vision of our Church that included everyone but particularly those people who society was happy to push to the margins.
Wearing these shirts at that time was a radical act of hospitality. Today they serve to remind us how far we have come and a warning that it is easy for the church to mimic the world and support the creation of outcasts. People of faith have an opportunity to examine the prejudices and assumptions of secular culture in the light of faith and to make a conscious choice whether to accept or reject those attitudes.
There is both freedom and risk in being able to choose to include those that society excludes. The risk, of course is that society will add us to the Outcast pile. The freedom is in getting to choose, as Jesus did, our own company and to invite as many as possible into the ever-expanding tent of faith.
There is a joy that comes from being welcoming and open but it can also feel like taking a risk.
When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
Simon trusts Jesus and lets down his nets. The nets fill with fish to the point that both his boat and that of his partners begin to sink under the weight of the fish.
To me, that is the combined joy and fear of Welcome in a nutshell. Welcoming one and all means letting go of control and accepting the wild abundance of God.
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: No Outcasts T-shirt 1985