Christian Viewpoint: 'Welcome home' – words we need to hear more often with unconditional love
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“Welcome Home,” read the sign on the coffee shop wall. This was the first of two things to strike me when I visited my daughter Beth’s church in Aberdeen, writes John Dempster.
That sign reflects our human longing for a place of love, acceptance and homecoming. If we’re fortunate, we find this treasure in the people we journey with through life, our families and friends.
It’s a big promise the folk at King’s Church Aberdeen are making, but they’re right. At best, church is a place of unconditional welcome where we find family we didn’t know we had.
Though we often fail, our aim as Christians is not to let our own agendas set the pace so that we offer love which feels conditional, but to reflect God’s love, cherishing people as God cherishes them.
I found the “welcome home” sign poignant. Over the years I have been nourished by friendships with other Christians. But at times due to mental health issues I have felt as if I were standing outside in the darkness, looking through a cottage window as, inside the church, family gathered happily round a blazing fire.
Folk like me can lose our sense of homecoming, and need to hear again frequently those words, “welcome home.”
The other poignant sight at King’s Church was the Christian bookshop.
Gospel music playing, familiar titles on the shelves, it recalled my time as a Christian bookshop manager in the 1970s. I remembered the pile of books I bought with my staff discount the day I left – all the theology I’d ever need, I thought. The Aberdeen bookshop exerted a wistful theological tug – “come home”.
But I have always struggled with questions and doubts about faith, and many of my questions seem unanswerable. Not all churches know how to welcome you if you’re a questioner, a seeker, dancing on the edge of the Christian community – or outside looking in.
But though churches sometimes fail in the quality of their welcome, and though sometimes we feel beyond welcome, the ultimate welcome is in God. God who finds ways of assuring us that we are loved and lovely and lovable. God’s “welcome home” prompts in us both a “welcome home” to ourselves, finding self-acceptance in all our brokenness and failure, and a welcome home to God who makes our hearts a divine dwelling-place.
Our welcome by God is not dependent on the precise theological boxes we tick. All that’s required is openness to the great love of God as expressed in Jesus.
King’s Church Aberdeen will be imperfect, like all churches, but I believe that in coffee lounge, bookshop and auditorium people are hearing God saying for the first or ten-thousandth time “Welcome Home.”