All Doubters Welcome by Mary-Anne Rulfs

So says the electronic sign outside our Anglican Church on Palm Beach Ave.
It’s important messaging. In a world where so many people hold strong opinions on a range of issues without being willing to participate in moderated conversation or curious questioning with those who hold opposing views, to hold genuine doubts can be a refreshing alternative.

What if things aren’t as they appear? Especially as they appear in the media!
What if there’s more to life than meets the eye?
What if there is another way of seeing ourselves? or seeing others?

Doubting is perhaps a first step in acknowledging that we don’t have the full picture. Something is missing. Things don’t quite add up as we thought. Doubt reflects a sense of uncertainty. Doubt may also be associated with fears.

Our sign actually reads:

‘A safe place to re-connect with faith and explore meaning.
All doubters welcome!’

As I left the office at Palm Beach on Wednesday, the end-of-day traffic was piling up along Palm Beach Ave. I looked across to see how many people, as they sat in the west-bound traffic, were glancing towards the sign. Not one. Their eyes were straight ahead, waiting for the next opportunity to inch forward in their quest to get to where they were heading.

This got me thinking. If I was a vegetarian, I wouldn’t be particularly interested in the location of local butchers and would hardly pay attention if I did notice one.

If I was a coffee drinker, I’d hardly know where the boutique tea outlets were. And neither would I care, unless I was wanting to buy a gift for a tea-drinking friend or family member perhaps.

So why would we expect people who decided a long time ago that church was no longer for them (if it ever was) to pay attention to a random sign on a property with which they have no connection? Why would we think they would care what was going on at our church?

People pay attention when they recognise a need.

A few weeks ago one of our Robina parishioners courageously shared their story of feeling completely lost. Seeing the electronic sign at the crossing outside Robina Town Centre, they responded to its invitation, which was pivotal in their moving from doubt about whether life was worth living to finding meaningful connection and self-worth in Christ. The person wrote:

One day as I was waiting to cross the road. I noticed a sign advertising the Robina Anglican Church services on a Sunday. I don’t know why but the following Sunday I attended the 9.30 service. From the moment I walked in I felt accepted, everyone was friendly and made me feel special and liked… I no longer live in darkness and despair … My journey into the light is continuing …

One of the realities of the Christian life is that none of us have the full picture. None of us have fully ‘arrived’. Our life in Christ is always characterised by mystery as much as it is shaped by the assurance of God’s love for us. We are always ‘on the way’ with Jesus, and as we go, our lives are transformed into the likeness of Christ, little by little, challenge by challenge, question by question, inner prompting by inner prompting, day by day. The Jesus who walks with us is the same Jesus who, out of his own fears, made some pretty tough requests to God. In all four gospels, we hear Jesus’ anguish as he asks God the Father to remove the cup of suffering from him; yet in humility and love, Jesus enters into suffering, trusting in God’s provision, for the sake of the world he loved.

In his teaching and healing ministry, Jesus posed questions to those who sought him out; to those, who having recognised some need in themselves, (whether disciples, people from the towns and villages where he ministered, or leaders in religious or civil life) felt drawn to Jesus as someone who could offer healing and wholeness. Jesus asked questions like, “Who do you say I am?” and “What would you have me do?”

Jesus asked questions because he was a great listener. And because he was skilled at drawing people in to discovering for themselves the truth that lay deep within them.

He asked questions because he was a great teacher. Questions like ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?’. (We’ll hear this question in our gospel reading on Sunday.)

And as much as he loved asking questions, Jesus loved telling stories, especially the allegorical stories we call parables, to respond to these questions. Very little was cut and dried and precise with Jesus. Interpretation of his stories was left for the community to explore together, and figure out their response.

And so, in seeking to offer a different way of experiencing church for those who have become disconnected or disenfranchised from church (more and more Australians with every census!), church for doubters and the pissed off has begun at Palm Beach. 11.30am every Sunday.

The gathering is invitational, shaped around words and actions that offer space for reflection, invite questions, welcome conversation, facilitate meaning-making and foster a sense of community. A place where doubts are honoured, mystery is acknowledged and life lived with joy and meaning and love as an experience of God’s presence becomes a possibility once again.

If you know someone who might like to dip their toes in and come along, please pass on the flyer in this newsletter.

And for those of us who are in church week by week or simply now and then, how important is the opportunity we have to make every single person we encounter to feel welcome! If there is one doubt that Jesus wants us to let go it’s this: Am I worthy of God’s love?

Jesus is clear on this one. Yes, you are!

When we live in the assurance that we really are known and loved by God, we are free to welcome and love others, whoever they may be. We are also freed to let go of our grip on the way we prefer to do church so that there is space for others to feel more at home as we worship and share life in community.

In a world where people are anxious and angry and disillusioned, Jesus invites us to courageously make room for those who doubt, not only in our church, but also in our hearts. And to know that if we have doubts, that’s ok too. In Jesus’ world, all doubters are welcome!

Hopefully one or two doubters will notice our sign and feel drawn to come along.

Grace and peace,