Space for Grace
Creating Inclusive Churches
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'This highly readable book examines why inclusion matters theologically and how it can be put into practice in a parish context. Biblical reflection is interspersed with the personal stories of members of a very diverse congregation in South London and scenes from their life and worship together. How divine grace can touch and transform 'ordinary' people and places, like the light shining through stained-glass windows on the book cover, is vividly portrayed.
Loving welcome and overcoming of division are central to the Bible, argues the author, not in the sense that 'anything goes' but rather that opportunities can be created for spiritual growth. Attention is drawn to the radical implications of recognising all humans as created in God's image, following the Christ portrayed in the Gospels, and St Paul's image of the church as a body all parts of which should be cherished. Giles Goddard recognises that Christian churches have often seemed out of touch with society and unaware of the harm caused by exclusion, but is hopeful about the future, based in part on his own experience as a Church of England parish priest, and that of many other worshipping communities.
He does not gloss over the challenge involved in opening up leadership opportunities to women, members of ethnic minorities and openly gay or lesbian people, as well as reaching out to meet the needs of neighbours in one of the most economically deprived areas in England. Yet this is more than a description of a diversity and outreach programme. A strong sense of joy in worship comes across, and of the church's mission to live out the love of God which it proclaims.
At times the pace is almost too fast, and I wished when reading the book that there were more space to explore issues and debates surrounding inclusion. Yet this would have resulted in a far longer work, with fewer readers, and on the whole I think the author manages to cover a lot of ground without being superficial. I also wonder if he fully conveys the power of the human urge to 'purify' communities or find scapegoats which can wreak such havoc, and in which religion can become mixed up with largely unspoken and disturbing aspects of personal and social behaviour. To create and sustain inclusive churches may sometimes involve swimming against a strong current.
Overall, however, this is a helpful and moving account of what inclusion might mean in practice, and why it should matter to Christians concerned with bringing Scripture, tradition and reason to bear on the challenges confronting the world today. While focusing on the Church of England's experience, it is also relevant to Anglicans elsewhere and members of other denominations, especially those in urban areas. It is suitable not only for those already convinced of the value of being inclusive but also those who are fearful that it means a watering-down of the challenge of the Gospel. It may also be of value to students of religion who are interested in understanding more about contemporary Christianity, beyond the heated debates about the theology of sexuality which so dominate media coverage, or more academic discussions about whether religious observance is going up or down!
Certainly this book conveys something of the flavour of vibrant worshipping communities which seek to be open to the Holy Spirit and, despite their own imperfections, create space for God's grace to heal and renew.'
Savitri Hensman, The Inclusive Church Newsletter, Dec 2008