What does it mean to be a welcoming congregation? It means that you care about people. It means that you want others to be a part of your church community and that you invite them to join you. A welcoming church accepts people as they are. It includes and loves people from all walks of life. A welcoming church helps people to feel at home, valued, and yes, even treasured! It embraces others without judgement and it encourages diversity.
How do we reach out to the broader community to let them know that whoever they are and wherever they are on life’s journey, they are welcome here? Young families and new members need to know that they are welcome here! The LGBTQ community needs to know that they are welcome here! Those who have never attended church regularly before need to know that they are welcome here! Those who are hurting and those who are searching need to know that they are welcome here.
I have talked with many members of this congregation over the last two weeks. In that short time, I learned that once people walk through the doors of the First Congregational Church, they generally find an extravagant welcome. Sometimes they stumble in by chance. More often they are invited by a friend.
People describe a sense of feeling at home that comes with being a part of this church community. I’ve felt it myself. That sense of belonging drew me to this congregation. I cannot capture the feeling of welcome in words. It is simply a sense of rightness. A feeling that this is where I was meant to be. It is God’s call made evident. Each interaction I have with you confirms that feeling.
I was overwhelmed by the support and outpouring of help I received on my first day in Canandaigua. Thirty-three of you turned up to an “unpacking party” to help the new minister unpack the containers filled with furniture, tubs, boxes, books, and all of our earthly belongings. You pitched in wherever you could, some carried heavy boxes and furniture, others put together bed frames, some unpacked kitchen items and put them in cupboards, others broke down cardboard boxes. Each one of you helped me to feel so incredibly welcomed. And, had it not been for your help, we might still be unpacking boxes!
My dream for this congregation is that others will feel that same profound sense of support and belonging when they walk through these historic doors. My hope is that we will work together to reach out to people beyond these doors to invite them to come in and get to know this church family. We don’t want First Congregational Church to be Canandaigua’s best kept secret! Let’s find ways to share the gift of Christ’s amazing love with others. Let’s invite them to be a part of this deeply faithful community, and let us extend to others God’s radical and extravagant welcome.
Rev. Dawn Garrett-Larsen