Whoever you are, wherever you come from,
wherever you find yourself on your life’s journey,
whichever your pronouns,
whether you’ve walked in or rolled in or dialed in,
whomever you love,
you are welcome here.
I’ve been saying some version of these words for many years now, ever since I first heard something similar spoken at the start of every worship service at the church where I served my ministerial internship. I loved them then, and I still do, though you may have noticed I’ve more recently begun adding one more sentence at the end of this litany: You belong here.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that people can feel welcome in a congregation without also feeling a sense of ownership. They might articulate this feeling by describing themselves as “new” to the congregation, even if they’ve been attending for a few years. This feeling of being new, I think, gets at something important – the difference between feeling welcome and feeling a sense of belonging.
Community is all about belonging. Belonging goes much deeper than a sense of being welcome. Belonging is an antidote to loneliness and isolation, two things we’ve all had way too much of these past few years, and some people experience still. Perhaps the difference between welcoming and belonging can be summed up as the difference between guests and members. Guests, whether at someone’s home or faith community, are welcome. Members, though, well…, they belong.
Sometimes, my inner idealist takes hold and I take some time to dream about impossible things. What if every person who crossed the threshold of our Unitarian Universalist congregations could feel an immediate sense of belonging? Of being at home? What would it take to make this dream a reality? I don’t know that answers to these questions, so in the meantime, I’ll keep on repeating: you are welcome here and you belong here. Perhaps saying so, will help us envision how to make it so – for ourselves and for each other.