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Radical Welcome

Radical Welcome

Stephanie Spellers

c 2006

Summary by Melissa Congleton


“Radical Welcome” provides original ideas for drawing together those already participating in Christianity and those who are on the margins. This book provides insight on how to affect ministry in the world Christians live in today. Its main thesis focuses on how individual congregations can place a focus on a welcoming ministry using the tools in the book in their own context.

The Radical Welcome Journey

  • Radical Welcome is the spiritual practice of embracing and being changed by the gifts, presence, voices, and power of The Other: The people systemically cast out of or marginalized within a church, a denomination and/or society LOCATION: 6

  • Radical welcome is about communities whether it be for those who are “The Other” looking in or those inside looking to expand a community. LOCATION: 8-9

Defining Radical Welcome

  • Radical welcome is a fundamental spiritual practice, one that combines the universal Christian ministry of welcome and hospitality with a clear awareness of power and patterns of inclusion and exclusion. LOCATION: 11

  • Four movements of mutual embrace

  • Opening the arms: desire to reach beyond yourself to the other.

  • Waiting: wait at the boundary of the other until they are ready.

  • Closing: after the other steps into the embrace there is a closing, a mutual indwelling.

  • Opening the arms: open your arms, look at yourself and rediscover your new identity of the parts together. LOCATION: 12

  • Radical: a deep commitment to the idea of welcome. LOCTION: 13

  • Need to ask who is the other to our tradition/denomination-those who haven’t had power, given voices, been welcomed with open arms.

Radical welcome is the community seeking to welcome the voices, presence, and power of many groups, especially the other or marginalized, and aims to be:

  • Hospitable-traditionally marginalized in our community

  • Connected-neighbors/neighborhood

  • Centered-Christian identity

  • Open to conversion-learn from others and God

  • Intentional-engage in a plan and what is needed to carry it out

  • Comprehensive-throughout the whole church

  • Becoming-recognize the journey is never finished

  • Beyond diversity-welcomes all

  • Faithful-as a way of saying “yes” to God’s gracious invitation to welcome as Christ does

  • Compassionate-create space for people to express dreams and fears

  • Real-acknowledge they won’t be perfect in this quest LOCATION: 15-17

Radical welcome is not:

  • Not a call for people to come into our prepackaged way of doing things but to bring what they believe, and we can both keep our own identity.

  • Not a feel-good ministry

  • Not reverse discrimination

  • Not a conventional church growth strategy

  • Not a political correctness or a haphazard, reactionary throwing out of the baby with the bathwater LOCATION: 17-18

Part 1: Theology of Radical Welcome

The Dream of God

The God of Transformation

  • Throughout scripture God turns things upside down to get them right side up again. We need to be part of a new creation that God is creating. LOCATION: 30-33

The God of Relationship

  • God dwells in us; we can choose God as our dwelling place. God dies to be in relationship with us.

  • Hooker says God is present in all life by way of incarnational theology.

  • God wants us all to be one reconciled body of Christ.

  • God chose to be vulnerable with us. God seeks relationship with us. LOCATION 33-36

The God of Welcome

  • God goes beyond relationship and reaches out intentionally to everyone, especially the outcast.

  • We need to go further than giving to the poor but welcoming them for who they are. LOCATION: 36-40

Living with Arms Wide Open

  • There is a spiritual discipline in the act of maintaining a posture of utter receptivity and hospitality to new voices, new people, new ideas, new music, new words, new power. LOCATION 44.

  • Saying “yes” to God’s invitation is more than passive observation. LOCATION: 44

  • Radical welcome as a spiritual practice means we welcome The Other who is Christ’s living presence among us. We need faith to step out in newness and uncertainty

  • Faith implies risk. LOCATION: 48

Be Not Afraid

  • Something must die in order for new life to happen.

  • Radical welcome is to a great degree the practice of embracing our inevitable fear of The Other, of loss, of death.

  • Facing fear can make you free. Choose freedom instead of being shackled by fear. God steps in when we are the most fearful and vulnerable. People are afraid of change because it means letting go of the familiar. LOCATION 51-59

Part 2: The Picture of Radical Welcome

Beyond Inviting and Inclusion

  • Radical welcome means going beyond joining what is already going on and assimilating into an existing group.

  • People can bring their own culture, voice, and whole self for mutual relationship. LOCATION 63-64

  • Radical welcome includes taking the steps to becoming anti-racist. These steps are

  • Monocultural: Racial and cultural differences seen as defects

  • Multicultural: Tolerant of racial and cultural differences

  • Anti-racist: Tolerant of racial and cultural differences, starts working toward change yet white privilege remains intact

  • Anti-racist multicultural: Racial and cultural differences are seen as assets LOCATION: 70-71

  • If invitation is assimilation, and inclusion is incorporation, then the key word for radical welcome is incarnation. We need to surrender to the culture and perspective of The Other. LOCATION:73

Radical Welcome Signs

Five signs a community is opening its doors and its common life to The Other

1. Mission and Vision

a. Incorporates the other and guides continuing development of the community’s identity

2. Identity

a. Values history but still incorporates The Other, leaders understand the makeup of the surrounding community and invite neighbors to join in common mission, eliminate barriers for The Other

3. Ministries and relationships

a. Doing with rather than for others, activities designed to fulfill the radically welcoming mission, have mutual transforming relationships

4. Leadership and feedback systems

a. Leaders are recruited, mentored and selected from distinct community groups w/ attention to building power among minorities, wide access to decision -makers and transparency in decision-making, different cultural and generational styles of leadership are understood and accommodated.

5. Worship

a. Makeup of worshiping body reflects the surrounding community

b. Liturgical texts, music and images reflect the congregation and surrounding community, worship is rooted in lived traditions and open to fresh expressions (may not be in a single service) LOCATION: 76-77

Part 3: The Practice of Radical Welcome

Re-imagine Your Common Life

  • The call to ministry is the call to be a citizen of the kingdom of God in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled. Ministry is the commitment to the dream of God. LOCATION: 97

  • Five elements of congregational body life

  • Mission and vision: How could your stated purpose and plans for the future reflect the dream of God?

  • Identity: Who does the dream of God call you to include as fully present and empowered members of your congregation?

  • Ministries and relationships: What kinds of activities and relationships reflect the radically welcoming dream of God? How could your ministries and relations more fully proclaim, fulfill, and prepare you for that dream?

  • Leadership and feedback systems: How is God calling you to recast leadership and to expand your notion of who is truly worthy of exercising power? How could you create structures for feedback that allow more voices to be heard and honored?

  • Worship: How could your liturgy and music reflect the ream of God for your community? What would it communicate about your community’s culture(s), values, and mission? LOCATION: 99

  • For all areas ask, where are we now? And where is God inviting us to go? LOCATION: 100-101

  • In worship assimilation is the downplay one’s own identity to fit in.

  • Acculturation means come as you are where both sides come together but neither give too much way. LOCATION: 14-115

  • Inculturation: The most radically welcoming where the liturgy is inserted into the culture, history, and tradition of the people among whom the Church dwells. It does not surrender all traditions that have shaped the denomination. LOCATION: 116

Check Your Reality

This chapter delves into the Episcopal church’s culture and practices in the United States as a test case.

Ask, what are “they” saying about “us?”

Is the Episcopal Church in the United States is seen as a place for blacks, gays, and others?

  • The Episcopal Church (TEC) was planted as the church of an empire, to rule over all the nation.

  • TEC started as the church of the governing and owning class

  • TEC was shaped by its call to maintain social order and stability

  • Membership in TEC is still seen as privilege by association LOCATION: 126

  • A Liberating Legacy: TEC culture may prevent new life, but it can also celebrate the resources and practices that position us for transformational growth. LOCATION: 128

  • What’s Your Congregational Reality?

  • If you want to connect with those who’ve been systemically, historically held at the margins of your church, there is no way to get there without understanding the congregation’s reality in terms of power, privilege, oppression, insiders, and outsiders.

  • Build on strengths and note growing edges. LOCATION 131-133

Reckon with Your Fear

  • Change results in people feeling threatened. LOCATION: 135.

  • We need to understand the nature of people’s fears to learn to transform them.

  • Fear of the other

  • Fear of change

  • Personal: Anything that shifts us out of our own centered identity

  • Interpersonal: We must grow together.

  • Institutional: Think about how if the institution changes, how will it orient itself in the world

  • Cultural: Change associated with the foundational principles that make up a culture, like God and the church, inspires the greatest fear LOCATION 138-139

  • The sound of fear

  • Losing our comfort zone

  • Losing a venerable tradition

  • Losing a community’s cultural, social identity

  • Fear of looking or being judged ignorant, unprepared, or otherwise less that “together”

  • Fear of failing and being judged

  • Fear of raising hopes and then being disappointed

  • Fear of incurring a backlash

  • Fear of scarcity

  • Fear of disappearing

  • Fear of foreign cultures

  • Fear of letting go of control

  • Fear of facing our own prejudice LOCATION 140-141

Holding the fear

  • Done in relationship

  • Doesn’t protect people from adaptation

  • Facilitates prophetic movement

Practices for Reckoning with fear

  • Practice compassion with your own fears

  • Open the space for honesty and truth-telling

  • Train a team of leaders committed to pastoral care and transformation

  • Bring compassion and wisdom to the resistance

  • Addresses real life issues like scarcity of losing a major pledge

  • Be prepared for the backlash

  • Mine for your tradition’s resources for dealing with fear

  • Return to the dream LOCATION 143-150

Where Do We Go from Here?

  • Craft a Vision Together

  • Key leadership and the rest of the people should have a voice

  • Choose your battles

  • Be realistic about resources since no one can do everything

  • Give thanks for the small victories-small shifts make a difference

  • Be gentle with each other LOCATION 151-154

The Practices of a Radically Welcoming Community

  • Engage in Formation for Radical Welcome

  • Model New Attitudes

  • Create and Nurture Supportive Structures

  • Prepare for the Journey LOCATION 154-158


  • The Joy in the Struggle: communicating the joy in tapping into Jesus’ excitement at working among the people your culture says you shouldn’t be with. LOCATION: 161

  • Bread for the Journey: Online resources for sermons, bible studies, exercises, best practices, etc.

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