Together Towards Life: becoming a Church of inclusivity

by Aleshia Johnson last modified 19 October 2016 12:09 PM
Together Towards Life: becoming a Church of inclusivity

Edinburgh, Scotland. © Aleshia Johnson

19 October 2016

When I was invited to attend the consultation on spirituality, worship and mission, I was asked to prepare some personal reflections on my own spiritual journey as a young person. I was asked to share what advice I had for the WCC with respect to how to engage youth in the Church as they aimed to define what they could say "about the spiritualities of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace and how to manifest it in worship, spiritual formation, and mission activities of the church as well as in daily life."

To this end, narratives from communities on the margins would be a particular focus and, as such, my insight as a young female of both Caribbean and Native American ancestry would be most welcome.

My most formative spiritual experience took place when I converted to Christianity ten years ago. As with many Christians, I consider my conversion as the ultimate milestone of my life since it has forever changed how I view reality, how I encounter God, and how I engage in relationships with others. However, unlike many Christians, my testimony has been one which I have struggled to share boldly, namely because of its sensitive content and the often upsetting reactions I have witnessed from other Christians with whom I have shared.

Struggles with the traumatic effects of gender-based violence, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and mental illness had defined my adolescence before I decided to follow Christ and before he would begin the restorative work of healing my broken body and spirit. Not having been raised in the Church and having such little exposure to the gospel, I initially believed that my fellow believers would rejoice when I shared the story of how Christ rescued me from a life in darkness.

Not so. In fact, throughout my early years as a new Christian, I was met with overwhelming skepticism, hostility, and rejection from many Christians who either seemed to have difficulty trusting this new convert, who were uncomfortable receiving the heavy details of my past, or who felt that we had so little in common that they didn't bother to build a friendship with me at all.

If there is anything I have learned in ten years of discipleship, it is that the family of God ought to be a people of inclusiveness, unconditional acceptance, and understanding. In other words, the church ought to be a safe place and space for peoples from all walks of life. Unfortunately, my experience has taught me the opposite.

Rather than being a place where one can find a home in the midst of chaos and insecurity, the church and its associated institutions have the tendency to be a hotbed of exclusion, divisiveness, rivalry, and condemnation. Rather than being a place that is molded into the image of Christ, it prefers to mold its adherents into its own image based on what it deems to be culturally and socially acceptable.

For this reason, I have struggled to feel at home within the Church and have felt discouraged from participating in its life whether that be by attending weekly services or other forms of fellowship. This experience is unfortunately all too common amongst non-Christian and Christian youth who are perhaps curious about the faith, who desire to grow and mature in their spirituality, but who are turned off by the organizational and social shortcomings of the Church.

Fortunately, I believe that the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace has the potential to be a positive witness of Christendom and Christian life. The WCC document "Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes" affirms that, "The church, as the communion of Christ's disciples, must become an inclusive community and exists to bring healing and reconciliation to the world" (TTL, p.7). For many millennials, the notion of inclusivity is one which must be embraced as part of the groundwork of any effort to yield peace and justice in the world.

Inclusivity means embracing diversity and joining in respectful dialogue even despite our differences. It means making space for people who are unlike ourselves, building genuine relationships with the outcast, encountering the vulnerable, and joining with these same people towards a common end of goodwill. By building an inclusive community within our pilgrimage, we can cultivate an environment that "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres" -- an environment built on love.

In doing so, we will not only be personally transformed as pilgrims on a spiritual journey of justice and peace, but the image of the Church and our witness to the world will be collectively transformed for the better as well.

Kangombe Linda
says:
21 November 2016 12:34 PM

I think together we can stand up to build peace social development stability around the world supporting the ten commandments of God to stop violence and crimes in the human society.