Inclusive – Sermon

This sermon/talk was given at St. Bride’s as part of a series where we looked back at the St. Bride’s motto that was chosen 15 years ago “Creative, Progressive, Inclusive” and reflected on how we can continue to grow as a community in these three aspects.

“Great to hear our Tsedaqah resident Charlotte Steffensen speak at the morning service at St Bride’s Church, Liverpool on inclusivity. What inclusive measures might help us all feel included and how can we incorporate these measures into our church life to ensure that ALL are welcome?” – Debra

For those of y’all who may have not been here the last few weeks, this month we have been doing a series on the three words of the St. Bride’s motto: Creative, Progressive, and Inclusive. Today we are going to be looking at what it means to be an inclusive church. I generally don’t like sermons that give the dictionary definition of a word but seeing as the word inclusive can be a loaded word I think it is necessary to start with the clearest possible definition. The word inclusive has three main meanings according to the Oxford dictionary:

  1. including all the services or items normally expected or required.
  2. not excluding any of the parties or groups involved in something.
  3. aiming to provide equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.

As a disabled, bisexual, immigrant, woman with mental health issues and learning delays, there are many axes of oppression on which I am on the marginalized side. The St. Bride’s community is well ahead of much of the Church of England in including members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Yes, Open Table plays a major role in including those who need a space of calm expectance because of past traumas caused by other faith groups who were not excepting of different sexualities. However, I think St. Bride’s biggest strength in including LGBTQIA+ people is that we do not separate Open Table from the Sunday morning congregation. There is no divide. Everyone is part of the faith community, not one or the other. Anyone who enters the St. Brides community through Open Table can come in for a regular Sunday service and vice versa. In my time here it is clear to see that St. Bride’s and the whole of St. Luke’s in the city are very good at not putting hard barriers between the US and THEM, but I have found it is always good to remember that we could still be better. The spirit of inclusivity in this space is often palpable.

As someone with an invisible disability, I have become acuity aware of societal standards of what is polite or acceptable behavior are actually really inaccessible for so many people. Is it rude for me to sit when everyone else is standing? Is it rude for me to fidget and dance around in serious moments? My body works a bit differently, so I have to do so many things differently, but societal standards don’t allow for that. I do not have any visible mobility aids, so I have had people make comments about my actions many times throughout my life. I think as good Christians, who love our neighbors as ourselves, it is important for us to look at all interactions through the lens of “how would I want to be treated.” This goes for mental health, developmental differences, visible and invisible disabilities, and so much more. In my time here I have seen a lot of good examples of this inclusion here at St. Brides. When it is time to stand in the service, the leader generally says something along the lines of “if you are comfortable and able, please stand.” Inclusive language like this allows everyone to participate at the level they are at without feeling guilty for not being able to live up to a standard or unwelcome because of their differences. Our words are what people hear, so we need to make sure the intention behind them is love.

While our words are important to include everyone, it is also important to evaluate the spaces we use. St. Bride’s has its positives and its negatives in usability for all. There is no way for a wheelchair to reach the choir area. The gravel outside is fairly uneven which can be really hard for those with mobility issues. The pigeon can be highly distracting to those with attention issues, like me.  However, to be more positive, there is a ramp outside, which is more than the cathedral has. There are no pews so the space can be arranged to meet the needs of anyone. Café-style seating with tables allows for flexible seating and large enough spaces between tables for movement. Changes to fix the inclusivity issues of this space will take time, but we can choose how to use the space as it is, for now, to make it as welcoming to everyone as we can. Our space is only as inclusive as we make it.

The spirit, words, and space of St. Bride’s and St. Luke’s in the city are all very inclusive. However, it is always good to remember that we could always be doing better. So, in the spirit of doing better, I have a few discussion questions for us to talk about with each other.

1) What inclusive measures do you notice in the world? What inclusive measures do you notice are missing?

2) What groups do you feel we are including in our church? What groups might we not be including?

3) What inclusive measures might help you? How can we incorporate them into our parish life to help include you better?

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