“Next time you have the opportunity,” Jesus taught, “when you are having a dinner for friends,” invite the misfits from the
wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be a blessing, and you’ll be blessed.” (Luke 14:12-14, The Message).
Who is invited to your church? Your first instinct might be to say, “Everyone!”
But who’s invited, welcome, is much more than who can come in theory.
During winter holidays, I have the opportunity to visit a few churches that were new to me. I found that churches that use chairs and not pews were more likely than not to overlooking one simple thing to make room for wheelchairs, scooters, and mobility devices.
They didn’t make a few rows short to allow people in wheelchairs, for instance, to be able to come in and park without moving furniture. What’s interesting is that this is a kind of access that doesn’t cost money. It requires knowledge and willingness.
So we should discuss it, out loud, with each other! In meeting rooms that have chairs and not pews, leaving out some chairs is an invitation to participate in the life of your church, and that participation was something precious to Jesus. They wanted everyone, even the misfits, to be able to participate. I don’t equate being disabled with being a misfit in a negative way, but the embodiment of unique function calls for the members of Beloved Community to see what compassion and help they can provide those who need a boost to participate. Sometimes people resist by saying that they can’t be all things to all people. in fact, we mean something much more specific — things like, being able to park in the sanctuary and reach necessary hymnals, and, of course, being able to use the restroom.
This detail, almost literally, fulfills an aspect of hospitality that says, “There you are! We’ve been waiting for you. See? We saved you a space.” The people who come to your church are looking for this kind of welcome. They are hoping that their visit matters. It’s a tough thing to make the effort to get to church and be met with unfortunate circumstances, being unable to fully participate or be comfortable. (This could be for any number of reasons, ranging from no large print hymnals to lack of amplification, microphones, two reason among many.) Is this the best we can possibly do? I assert that it is not. (Sample guidelines for how many chairs to leave out are here.)
How a church deals with this specific issue is one of the ways that they demonstrate what their beliefs are about who is important. Jane Addams was a tireless advocate for women’s right to vote and for international peace. She said that, “Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.” That is, hoping or wishing to be broadly welcoming is never going to be enough. Someone has to be the person who calls in the people who never get invited out, the misfits, the disabled. Someone has to tell them, “Friend, there’s a place for you at the dinner party. You’ll be siting at the table of honor. Come celebrate with us. If you plan for them to attend, then, they will arrive.