Back in 2008 when we had just been invited to come to Marble, I was in a conversation with a woman who happens to live in New York City. I asked her to tell me what she knew about this church. (She is not a member here, so I was confident I would get a totally objective reply.) She began telling me how “everyone knows” (her words) that Marble is a place where Good News is preached, the poor are assisted, everybody is welcome, and Faith is not just professed but also practiced. That was an exciting thing for me to hear. I casually said, “I wonder what their mission statement looks like,” to which she replied: “I have no way of knowing, but I can tell you what it ought to be.” I encouraged her to do so, and she said: “Following the example of Christ, we accept people where they are, love people as they are, and try the best we can to make them better.” Okay, that’s not our Mission Statement, nor has it been, nor shall it be. But, I think it’s gratifying to know that when people in New York City look at our church, that’s what jumps to mind. She saw Marble as a congregation of folks who follow the example of Christ, and thus who accept, love, and inspire everyone.
To accept people where they are – and to love them as they are – is indeed to follow the example of Christ.
A colleague of mine who serves a church in a rather conservative denomination challenged me about that once. He said: “How can you accept everyone just as they are? That means you condone their sin.” Personally, I don’t think it means that at all. To begin with, if churches were not open to people who sin, then no one (including clergy) could ever get in. We all make mistakes, err in judgment, drop the ball. That is the human condition. And thus, we all need a place where we can bring our senses of guilt or failure and find Grace. We all need a place to mentor us, to provide guidance and counsel for making future decisions, so that we will not repeat actions that result in guilt or failure. We all need a place to be made new. The late Bishop Ernest Fitzgerald used to say: “Church is a place where people who are weary with a daily uphill climb can hear the wonderful news that there is a better way!”
Arthur Caliandro used to say to me: “Everyone is broken. Therefore, everyone needs a place where there’s a chance they can be made whole again.” So, as I see it, the very fact that we accept everyone wherever they are in the journey and then try to assist them in discovering the “better way” Fitzgerald mentioned has nothing to do with condoning sin. It has everything to do with valuing people. It is about creating a community where all of us can find bread for the journey, Grace for past missteps, new principles to live by, goals to aspire toward, paths for becoming more authentic and more at peace, and models to show me what I can yet become if I allow Christ to do His work with me.
Apparently people know they can find all those things here. That’s part of the reason we have existed on this corner for almost four hundred years. That’s part of the reason a woman told me in 2008 that Marble is a congregation of folks who follow the example of Christ, and thus who accept, love, and inspire everyone. Having lived with you since shortly after that conversation, I realize now that she was right.