Reflections from Rev. Emily Gage
What Does It Mean To Be a Community of Identity?
We say it every single week in worship: “Whoever you are, wherever you are on your life journey, you are welcome here.” I love the ritual of saying (or hearing) some of the same words each week, and I love what those particular words say about us. They say: This is a community of radical acceptance. We want you to come just as you are, whatever that means—whatever your age, your ethnic or racial identity, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, your age, your abilities, your state of mind or emotional center on this particular day. You are who you are, and all of who you are is okay with us. We affirm your inherent worth and dignity. Each and every person is important.
In some ways, it might be more accurate to ask: What does it mean to be a community of identities? Each of us, of course, is a multitude of parts, some of which are ever-changing, some of which are fixed. And part of what we are called to do in our religious communities is to be in relationship both with all of who we are, and all of who those around us are. It’s a tricky and challenging business; after all, it’s more or less a custom for us to answer the question: “How are you?” with an automatic “I’m fine” even when we feel anything but.
Sometimes we’re afraid to share how awful we really feel, sometimes we are ashamed to break down crying in the middle of Coffee Hour, sometimes we feel like we can barely hold it together, and yet this can be part of who we are. AND it is it part of the very reason for our religious community to exist: to be with one another in all of who we are, whatever we are feeling. The more and better we do this, the stronger we become. What I also love about the “whoever you are…” message is something less explicit. It is this: You are on a journey, and we expect you to be on a journey.
That is, we accept you for who you are AND we want you to grow and change among us. That’s part of the deal. Our religion calls us to be on a search for truth and meaning, always examining what and how we believe what we believe. It’s both liberating and daunting. Our call of being a community of identities means we need to both be able to claim space for our own journeys, and also make space for others around us so that we can engage together on this shared quest for truth and meaning.
The next time you hear those words: ‘Whoever you are, wherever you are on your life journey, you are welcome here”, I encourage you to live more fully into them. Ask yourself: Am I bringing all of who I am to this religious community? Am I bringing all of my journey here? How can I encourage others to do so? May we each truly know that we are welcome in this community of identities.