All are welcome

Hazel Bradley and Jim Cargin work for L’Arche UK. Drawing on the experience of the L’Arche community they offer practical guidance and ideas for pastoral work and worship that engages people with learning and other disabilities.

St Paul: prophet of inclusion
If the church is to be truly whole, then everyone needs to be welcomed, and the ‘vulnerable’ need to be at its heart. Many modern prophets in the church, including Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, insist that the church cannot be truly whole unless the ‘poor’ are invited to the centre. The vulnerable are those pushed to the margins for a variety of reasons including disability. Inclusion is the popular current term for involving people, but as a description, it is really rather weak: Jean Vanier and John Swinton prefer to speak about belonging.

The friendship that is given to us in Jesus calls us to move beyond mere inclusion towards belonging. To belong, you need to be missed. To belong, others need to long for you like the prodigal
son’s father as he anxiously surveys the horizon, searching eagerly for signs of his son … To belong we need to feel that we matter. Belonging is the true place of meeting.

Vanier and Swinton are, in fact, advocating for the place of people with a psychiatric illness in the church, but exactly the same argument applies to others on the margins, including men and women with learning disabilities. The point is to welcome vulnerable people to the centre, and really celebrate each person’s presence, gifts and talents, and create a culture where each person knows that they can come just as they are.

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