#UCCSynod: What is 'Norm-al' in Our Churches?

#UCCSynod: What is 'Norm-al' in Our Churches?

One in series of posts by Southern New England Conference delegates to the 34th General Synod of the United Church of Christ.

I just got back to my room from the first day of Plenary Sessions (and there are plenty of plenaries ahead). We closed with a speech from the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, the nominee for the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. Dr. Thompson had many inspiring words to share, but in speaking about reaching out to people like the famous “spiritual, but not religious”, she alluded to “normative” expectations for people coming into our churches.
I found Dr. Thompson’s call to be in tension between a call for extravagant welcome and an intimate feeling of family and familiarity that our churches aspire toward. My brain having long lost its ability to think of anything more noble than network television, I thought of George Wendt’s famous character from Cheers!, Norm Peterson. A frequent barfly, whenever he would come into the bar, everyone would yell, “Norm!,” before he sat down at his favorite barstool, ordered his favorite beer, and commiserated with his friends.
We want our churches to be places where “everyone knows your name.” We have our favorite pews and our favorite hymns. We want church to be a place that feels like home, like wrapping yourself in a love that is familiar and comforting. But when we cry out to the “Norms” entering our churches, there are other norms that do not welcome, but exclude. Is it “Norm-al” for the people walking into our church to have a certain skin tone or gender expression? What about having an accent? Or having a certain amount of money? Or an education level? What about an appreciation for the great hymns of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? An instinct to stand for the doxology but to sit for the reading of the gospel? What about people that cannot even walk into our churches to begin with? How are these people made to feel “ab-norm-al”? How can they be made to feel at home as much as a person who has been attending for 50  years?
There are so many ways in which the way a church loves can be so accepting to some and so rejecting to others, even implicitly. Cheers was a show that we could go to share a drink with our parasocial friends, but I don’t remember a lot of racial diversity there. As we heard today, we need to “make the table larger,” welcoming more while making sure the people who are already there feel loved even when they are challenged to grow beyond their comfort. Let’s make our congregations places where we might not know everyone’s name, but we won’t stop until everyone is made to feel like a regular.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Gregory N. Baker  


gregory n. baker.png
Gregory N. Baker

Rev. Gregory Baker is the pastor of the United Chruch of Assonet, MA.

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