Each year as a pastor I receive two weeks of study leave. Sometimes this means going on a course, a retreat or even a study conference. This year I chose to stay at home and read.
The first book I read was Wide Welcome: How the Unsettling Presence of Newcomers Can Save the Church by Jessicah Duckworth. Right off the bat I want to say that there is some tension in the idea that newcomers can save the church. We believe that Christ saves and no one else. With that being said Duckworth sees the newcomer as a means of grace. In other words newcomers are a way through which God imparts grace i.e. new life.
For Duckworth grace is imparted as newcomers and old comers interact. As oldcomers move to the periphery and intentionally listen to the questions of newcomers a change happens. Old ways are seen in a different light, re imagined or sometimes discarded. It isn’t about giving answers to the questions but wrestling with them together. It’s challenging but also necessary. Here are a few of the quotes from the book along with my own comments:
Tension is created when the congregation asks the newcomer, “Who are you?” and then listens deeply to the response. I invite congregations to welcome newcomers and their unsettling questions as a means of grace. – Jessicah Duckworth
The newcomer is coming from outside us just as God comes to us in the sacraments. It isn’t something we do but rather something that’s done to us. What if grace actually comes to us in the newcomer? – Pastor Fleming
What is love? In the same way that faith is not sight but doubt, and hope is not optimism but honesty about despair and hopelessness, love is not power or being powerful, but weakness and being weak. – Jessicah Duckworth
Love becomes tangible as newcomers appear at the threshold of congregation, weary, broken, and worn searching for meaning, purpose, identity and new life. Love is the compulsion to welcome these newcomers, eager to hear their questions, encountering God’s promises, and transforming the congregation’s orientation toward God and to the world. – Jessicah Duckworth
It’s really the opposite of expecting integration or the melting pot. We are here to be changed by something from outside ourselves when all along we thought that the inside would change the outside. – Pastor Fleming
The generational encounter involves not the mere transmission of a cultural heritage, but the mutual negotiation of identities invested in different historical moment. – Jessicah Duckworth
Instead of insisting that newcomers become a part of the congregation core, oldcomers share themselves and their time at the periphery. – Jessicah Duckworth
Oldcomers facilitating newcomer participation cannot become defensive in response to newcomer questions. – Jessicah Duckworth