My brother, Jack, is not a man who often feels welcomed. His perception of his place in the world is simple; he does not fit in. Despite his warm heart, he struggles to make connections with others and prior to his arrival into any social situation, he has already determined that his presence will merely be tolerated.
My brother works driving a van that assists differently-abled people in getting around in their daily lives. It is a job that he likes. It is a job that he does well. Recently, he was called upon to pick a client up at a UU church in Virginia. Generally, when Jack arrives to pick someone up, they are waiting outside for him in a pre-determined location. In this particular case, his client was nowhere to be found. He was, as you might imagine, not comfortable with the idea of going inside a strange place full of strangers but he found a way to put that aside as he did not want his client to miss their ride. Warm heart.
Upon entering the church, Jack found a surprise waiting for him. He found a profound welcome. He found that the people of the UU community were waiting with open arms to welcome him no matter his purpose there. They were interested in who he was. They wanted to know how they could help. They wanted him to know that his presence there was much more than merely tolerated. While normally not very effusive, Jack reached out to me to say, “Wow, those UU’s really love everyone”. I couldn’t help but think to myself that what he was really saying was, “Wow, those UU’s really love everyone. Even me.”
Not surprisingly, my brother and I share similar feelings when in groups of people. I don’t fit in. Never have. My perception of my place in the world is that my presence will merely be tolerated. I often hear the word “unique” when I am being described and I always hope that it is meant in a positive way but I can never be entirely sure. I have become accustomed in my life to being on the outside looking in; always wishing that I could foster the deep connections that seem to come so easily to others.
I arrived at UUCC a little over 3 years ago. I was new to Unitarian Universalism and new to working within a church community. I expected to enter this community and do my job, but, as has always been the case for me, never really find my place within your world. But, I found a surprise inside the doors of UUCC. I found a profound welcome. In the years since I have come to UUCC, this community, this family, has laughed with me, cried with me, put their arms around me, sent me flowers when the “chips were down”, and told me hard truths when I needed to hear them. You have opened my mind, expanded my heart and given me a sense of purpose that is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
No matter how we perceive the world and our place in it, we have all experienced what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. To long for connection, acceptance and purpose. To find a place where we are welcomed with open arms. As our community reflects on the theme of “Welcome” this month, it feels appropriate for me to say, out loud, “UUCC, I glorify your welcoming spirit!” To open people’s minds, to expand their hearts and renew their sense of purpose. I have experienced it for myself, and I unabashedly say to you that the welcome you have extended to me has been transformative in my life.
As I now, finally, consider myself a member of this community, I join you in our continuing work to expand our capacity for welcoming. To pay forward what was given to me, to work with you so that everyone who comes through the doors of UUCC feels the surprise of, “Wow! Those UU’s really love everyone”….