Back in October and November last year I was looking at Steve McSwain’s list at Huffington Post of culprits contributing to what he perceives to be the demise of the church in North America.


I realized this morning that I never finished the list. In light of my day yesterday, McSwain’s culprit #7 is particularly timely.

Yesterday, I spent the day with fifty clergy colleagues discussing who we welcome to the Communion table in our churches. McSwain argues that the failure on the part of church communities to be genuinely welcoming is a stumbling block to the well-being of church in our current culture.

7. Exclusion/Inclusion

You cannot say, “Everybody is welcome here if, by that, you really mean, so long as you’re like the rest of us, straight and in a traditional family.”…

If everyone is not really equally welcomed to the table at your church, stop advertising that you are open to anyone. That is not only a lie, but Millennials can see through the phony façade as clearly as an astronomer, looking through the Hubble telescope, can see the infinity of space.

People today meet other people of entirely different faith traditions and, if they are discovering anything at all, it is that there are scores of people who live as much, if not more, like Christ than many of the Christians they used to sit beside in church.

It was gratifying yesterday, in the conversations I heard, to realize how determined the clergy with whom I share in ministry are to put as few unnecessary barriers as possible in the way of being genuinely welcoming.

The welcome we hope to embody in our communities is symbolized by the practice of what has come to be known as “Open Table”. This means, if you come forward for Communion in an Anglican Church and indicate a desire to participate, you will receive the bread and wine. It is hard to imagine what possible justification there might be for any other practice.

If we believe we are offering the life of Christ in the Eucharist, it is difficult to see why we might ever say to anyone, “No, you are not quite qualified to receive this freely given gift of light and truth embodied in this bread and wine.”

I do not know if it is unique to “Millenials”; but I think McSwain is right that today many people will immediately “see through the phony façade” of a welcome that is not genuine. And a genuine welcome means an open unconditional welcome.

Of course there are certain parameters any community must observe in an attempt to keep participants as safe as possible and to establish our relationships on mutual respect and kindness. But, once we have done what we can to make the church a safe and respectful place, what further regulations are required?

The fear that, if we welcome anyone at the table, we will lose any sense of cohesive identity, is an empty fear. We are simply shifting our sense of identity away from boundaries and regulations to openness and grace. We are defined by our practice of welcoming everyone who comes with any sign of faith no matter the depth of their faith or the degree of their institutional commitment.

As someone said in our meeting yesterday, “In our context today, simply by walking through the church door, a person has already made a profound counter-cultural gesture of faith.” What possible rationale could their be for the church to fail to honour this gesture of faith and fully include such a guest at our table?