Now that it's Wednesday, I've finally finished reading the Sunday edition of the Plain Dealer. (I remember there was a time when I subscribed to two daily papers and somehow had time to read them.) In between clipping coupons, scouring the Arts and Travel sections, and skimming the rest over the past few days, I kept thinking about the article about the closing of St. Adalbert's Catholic Church.
You can't be an engaged citizen in Cleveland lately without being aware of the challenges facing Catholic congregations, as well as the pain caused by the closing of so many churches around us. What bothered me especially about the article was the quote from a parishioner who feared that they would not be welcome because of their race. Having visited the online version of the article, the comments only worried me more!
What group of Christians, what church congregation worthy of such a title, would ever turn away new members at the door or not embrace them warmly as brothers and sisters? It would perhaps be unseemly to "recruit" new members from a closing parish, but certainly our morality and our basic human decency demand that we welcome all who come seeking to join in a worship service. These new members could contribute their own talents, personalities, experiences, and perspectives to enrich any congregation.
Welcoming new members and new generations also means adding to the musical repertoire. The discussion of this particular church focuses, of course, on traditional black music. Gospel music and spirituals sit partly at odds with traditional Lutheran hymns because of their tendency toward simpler lyrics and an emphasis on narrative over theology. Certainly, though, we can continue to make room for new tunes and texts. I can't say it's my personal strength, but it weighs on my mind regularly as I strive for diversity in our music.
The online comments have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the racial divide and the fact that St. Adalbert's had statues depicting Jesus as a black man. (By the way, is that truly a radical idea in 2009?) We care so passionately about our imagery, language, and music in churches because they create a sense of belonging and continuity. If you don't think this issue matters at Bethany or in the ELCA, reconsider the experience of weekly worship from the position of a newcomer, consider the votes slated for the National Assembly about the rights of a minority group, and consider what we can all do to focus on fellowship and inclusion.