I was in the parish parking lot, closing the trunk of my car, about to head into the church. Suddenly a voice rang crystal-clear: “You can’t park here.”
No greeting. No inquiry as to whether I needed help, or was, perhaps, lost. Even as I headed over to explain that I was there for a diocesan-sponsored workshop, it was made abundantly clear that my presence was a nuisance.
During the workshop, as we discussed ways of engaging with marginalized youth, it struck me as ironic (if somehow appropriate) that my day had begun with an experience of exclusion at the hands of the church.
Our discussion was facilitated by British educator Pip Wilson, who reminded us again and again that when working with youth wounded by their home community, “We can see their behaviour, but we can’t see their journey.” It isn’t until we listen to another’s story that we can begin to understand their actions.
I wonder what journey the parish staff were on, to have acted the way they did that morning?
We watched a short film exploring the realities of gang life and a young gang member shared something that resonated with my earlier parking lot experience. Speaking of those drawn into a life of crime, he said, “If they find their family excludes them, they’ll find a new family.”
In short, they’ll leave the place where they have experienced indifference or rejection to find a place of belonging.
How many young people, I wondered, have found themselves excluded by the church and have left to find another place to belong?
As our church continues to seek to do God’s work together, emphasizing values such as nimbleness and flexibility, we must first wrestle with this question. We may become nimble and flexible, but what good will come of these changes if we are a church of exclusion rather than embrace?
This is why the Marks of Mission are so important to me. Without an outward focus, rooted in the gospel of Christ, we will perish. And yet, if we take up the mantle and throw ourselves fully into God’s mission, we will become the people that God calls us to be.
Andrew Stephens-Rennie is a member of the national youth initiatives team of the Anglican Church of Canada.