Radical Welcome: What does it mean to be an inclusive church?

LAST MONTH, in my role as Open Table Network Coordinator, I was interviewed by Revd Phillip Johnson, vicar of the Parish of Malvern Link With Cowleigh, which is discerning whether to host an Open Table community.

A screenshot from the Zoom call interview

Phillip and I met in 2019 while taking part in the Journey of Hope pilgrimage exploring Christian reconciliation in action. His peace-making ministry has led to the creation of The Ascension Centre for Contemplation and Reconciliation.

Phillip asked four questions:

  1. Who are you and what is Open Table?
  2. What does an inclusive church look like?
  3. What do you think people who don’t go to church think about the Church’s attitude to LGBTQIA+ issues?
  4. How do people find out more about Open Table and support your ministry?

Much of the conversation focussed on what an inclusive church looks like. More than ninety churches have contacted me to discuss this during the 12 years since Open Table began in Liverpool in June 2008, so I have some insight into what they are already doing that works, and what more they can do to make a difference.

A useful resource I share with them is called Radical Welcome, a four-session programme aimed at helping churches begin to look at what it might mean to go beyond being inclusive, to become radically welcoming

The UK educational Christian charity Inclusive Church offers this resource free for churches to think through their welcome from the perspective of being inclusive.

The course material is easy to use for anyone confident in leading group work. Sessions are designed to last 1.5 hours, and work well in a setting with refreshments or a meal served beforehand or afterwards. 

Originally developed for the United Reformed Church, it was inspired by the book Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of Transformation by Stephanie Spellers, a practical theological guide for congregations that want to become a place where welcoming ‘The Other’ is taken seriously.

Participants are invited to:

  1. get to know each other better, reflect on the nature and identity of their church – and begin to identify how inclusive it is.
  2. use their own memories of exclusion as a basis for reflecting on ‘what does it mean to be welcomed?’
  3. ask ‘How radical are we in our welcome?’ by reflecting on their responses to people who are different from, or marginalised by, the majority culture of their community
  4.  consider where they are on the journey to Radical Welcome, as described in the table below. Download a PDF.

You can watch my interview with Phillip Johnson here (23.5 minutes):

The Inclusive Church Radical Welcome resource is available here.

For details of how to support or join the Open Table Network, visit the website.

This meeting was recorded via Zoom on Monday 25th May 2020, hence referring to the Open Table Network 5th anniversary event as ‘next month’.

The Open Table Network anniversary event will be a Zoom webinar on Saturday 13th June 2020 10.30am-1.00pm. Read more and register here.

The event will be recorded and highlights will be available on the Open Table Network YouTube channel as soon as possible after the event. Subscribe for instant notification of updates.

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