by Will Fuller, Kairos-Milwaukie UCC

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16

“Giving involves dying” said Father Pat in his Thanksgiving Day Mass homily at St. Henry’s Catholic Church in Gresham. It was a fine message about giving and sacrifice, about giving thanks for God’s gracious presence, even when God’s Creation includes pain, suffering and inevitable death. Like a tolling bell, it resonated for a UCC visitor like me as well as it might for a devout Catholic.

It resonates as a Christmas bell, too. In this joyous time of celebration for God’s greatest gift, there is a sacrifice. The Star of Bethlehem shines as a Cross; the sign of Jesus’ birth foreshadows his death and resurrection. Giving involves giving up something in order to receive something more.

Yet, I felt the contrast between that church’s orthodox tradition and the UCC’s unorthodox one. My wife and I were there as guests of friends, not as Catholics. While we were welcomed, we were not welcome to share the sacrament of communion the way any guest is invited to communion at a UCC service.

The UCC is a place of extravagant welcome.

UCC churches express God’s extravagant welcome in a variety of ways. Our welcome embraces both those we invite to participate in our congregations, as well as those outside the church, with whom we work for God’s justice and compassion. (UCC extravagant welcome website)