A place for love and welcome
A blog from Canon Saro about last month's confirmation service.
Last month, our cathedral hosted a very special event. An event that seems very ordinary for that kind of place but, on the other hand, very extraordinary for its attendees. I am talking about the confirmation ceremony on the 7th of November. Thirty-five enthusiastic Christians, accompanied by their friend and families, contributed to such a joyful spiritual event to remind themselves of their call; in life.
Candidates were from the age of 8 to 60+, with different nationalities and languages. They did not have the same background, race, gender, culture, and most probably, they did not share the very same motive to commit to life in Christ. But somehow, they all ended up in the same place to join the same family. They all wanted to be confirmed. Whatever it means to them: To be a full member of the church, or to complete their baptism, or to remind themselves of their way, or simply just carry on in their new faith; a sacrament or rite or tradition, whatever it is, they needed to be accepted. Because they feel they belong somewhere.
It was not just about the candidates; a part of the confirmation ceremony is about the congregation and how they respond to these newcomers. Do they welcome them and accept them regardless of their background and initial motives? I guess it is the very fundamental purpose of any church; where people are invited to come and see and stay.
Last month, I attended a cathedral diversity workshop. It was to promote diversity in our churches and talk about the ways that we can improve it. When I explained the diverse community of Liverpool cathedral and the reason for the presence of many asylums, one of the attendees suggested that it is better to concentrate on our county's existing problems; rather than making the new ones. I have to confess, it was quite a surprise for me; especially, because we were in a diversity workshop. We were supposed to accept all people regardless of their background stories. When we see someone as an alien whose problem is an extra burden to our county, surely, we cannot accept them as a member of our family. Imagine during the confirmation, when the bishop asks: "People of God, will you welcome these candidates?" Some people respond: well, not sure, maybe, to see if they are ok or not!! It probably does not happen in a formal ceremony. But what about every days life? Do we welcome anyone who joins the extended family of the church? Or we divide them into our county and other county's problem.
2 Corinthians 5:17: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” No background story can defy this verse. The problem is slightly deeper inside us; what is called unconscious bias and we all have it to some extent, except those perfect people with whom Chip Taylor deals.
Many times, we accept things as rigid facts because they have been repeated for us from a very young age. Sometimes we are exposed to misinformation and stereotypes. All of us have some personal experiences that we judge based on our limited knowledge. All of these can be the reasons for prejudice, partiality, and bias. Many times, these feelings are even against our own code of ethics. We are not aware of their influences on our choices and decisions; until somebody points them to us.
I think it would be a huge blessing to be reminded of our unconscious biases. Otherwise, it would be very hard to find about them; as the name implies, we are not usually aware of this problem. When we realize something is going wrong, then we can take care of the matter. To me, personally, there are three types of questions that are particularly helpful. Maybe we need to think about the very basis of our opinions.
- Is it based on knowledge and study or just bits and pieces from everywhere?
- And if, for example, we know some historical facts, is it the whole story? Do we know what happened before or alongside that?
- And more importantly, what about us? Have we been entirely perfect and righteous so that we can look down on others? As a matter of fact, if we were that perfect and righteous, we wouldn’t judge people that much.
These questions can remind us of our poor judgements, the main reason for struggling to accept others on many occasions. Asking the question is the first step of improvement. Sometimes, they may be shocking; when we understand, our deep insight is actually just a shallow stereotypical impression. But this painful first step is vital. When we knock down the walls around our minds, we will be ready for new discussions, challenging our mindsets, and accepting new ideas. Then, perhaps it would be much easier to welcome newcomers from any background.
Liverpool cathedral has always been a welcoming place for strangers. It hosts a diverse community from many different places all around the world, the same as the city itself. People come to the cathedral for many different reasons, but they see the same open arms at the main entrance; arms of the risen Christ that call them to join his family regardless of their past; come to see the light and follow it. Maybe some people do not accept the newcomers; some may doubt them, some may hate them; but what is our call as Christians? To spread the good news of salvation. And, when would be more convenient than the time someone comes forward by itself. We can, at least, show them some sparks of the love they expect. To let them feel it and take it in themselves. To tell the rest of the world that there is a big building in the city of Liverpool hosting a much bigger church which is the place of peace and love, a place that welcomes everyone and care about them.
God bless you
Status of the Risen Christ, Liverpool Cathedral, copyright David Dixon.