THE BLOG

Churches Should Be Welcoming - All Year Round

18/12/2013 17:26 GMT | Updated 17/02/2014 10:59 GMT

A vicar has told his congregation that only going to church at Christmas is a 'sham' and seems to suggest visitors should stay away if they don't fully embrace the Christian message.

"God is for life, not just for Christmas," the Reverend Steve Goodbody wrote in his parish newsletter, adding that some people seem to treat God as if he's an elderly relative they're not very fond of.

He added: "We may enjoy the sentimental feeling that the carol service generates but if it is all based on a falsehood or a delusion, then we are simply indulging a fantasy."

The vicar probably didn't expect his words to end up on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, and to be fair he does say that his church is pleased to welcome 'the many occasional visitors' it gets.

I am, however, extremely frustrated he appears to have missed the irony of potentially turning people away at this time of year.

Attitudes like this re-enforce a belief that church is some kind of exclusive club where there's no room for people unless they pass the right 'tests' and believe the 'right things'.

A few years ago a journalist colleague who knew I went to church thought I'd be cross because she'd taken her baby to a Carols by Candlelight service.

When I asked why she said she'd assumed I'd think she was a hypocrite, only popping in for the pretty candles and festive 'experience'.

Soon the newsroom erupted with tales of divorcees being denied church weddings and

sniffy attitudes to non-believers asking for babies to be christened.

Christians with a heart for mission need to take these perceptions seriously and we need to get the message out there that churches are welcoming places - or they should be.

When I interviewed Reverend Kate Bottley earlier this year she told me she feels sad when she hears of families turned away for asking for 'the things of God' in church.

"Sometimes I think there are folk who behave as if God's grace is a finite commodity and if we distribute it we might not have enough for ourselves. But I believe passionately in the generous 'yes' of God," she said.

Kate argued that Church should be there for everyone, regardless of what they believe: "that's how the Church of England parish system works; we're a Christian presence in every community."

She went on: "Some argue that it's wrong that people 'use' the church and this is something I hear from wedding couples and baptism families too.

"But I'm not worried that they're 'using' us. What else are we there for, but to be used? Thank God that they're using us!

"I wouldn't like to judge other people's spirituality and judge other people's relationship with Jesus, but I would like to walk with them, if only for a while, on their faith journey."

I agree with Kate. If someone is visiting my church for whatever reason is it any business of mine to question their motives?

Of course God is for life, not just for Christmas, but the Church community needs to consider how it can be a place where people can explore whatever spark of faith they have - without pressure and without expectation. We need to be welcoming not just during the festive season but all year round.