My extended family is large and noisy and prone to party. As a child I remember parties with snowball cocktails and cheese and pineapple on sticks and some bizarre game involving my Uncle Bill (not my real uncle) wearing a bra and pants and eating chocolate with a knife and fork. I spent my brother’s 18th under the table sipping barley wine with my cousin.
But the best parties were always the weddings. The DJ would play the inevitable rock and roll set and everybody would be up, some without hesitation and others with a little encouragement. Chucking ourselves around to Chuck Berry and nearly pulling a muscle to Martha and the Vandellas. Mum and Dad jiving, uncles throwing cousins in the air and usually catching them, but everyone from Auntie Edna (not my real auntie) through to the kids skidding on their knees, on the floor together, twisting and gyrating and making up our own steps. The music and the dance had a power of its own to unite and to include even nervous new boyfriends. There is something wonderful about the dancing at family weddings.
I danced at a wedding recently.
Not at the reception but at the ceremony itself. Not everyone knew the steps, but the joy was infectious and soon everyone wanted to join in. Like any dance at any wedding some danced on the edge and some threw themselves into it, but we shared a moment; the intention of which was to rejoice and include. Parts of the dance, as they always are, were messy and uncoordinated and a few of us forgot the steps but no one could forget the love and joy. It was a privilege to be part of.
The Church is a unique creature with music and dance steps of its own. Often we expect those on the edges to already know the moves and to be able to join in of their own accord. But there is a need to lead people to the floor to introduce them to the steps we know but also to help them to bring their own movements to the dance, so that we might learn new steps from them.
Inclusion of those who are not yet part of this dance we call church can be messy and uncoordinated. It come s with its own challenges. Some find it difficult when the pattern doesn’t follow the steps they have been taught and know well. There can be much stepping on of toes. Others struggle with the rhythm and key changes. Some would prefer a line dance or something more coordinated where there is a leader at the front and we all do the same thing at the same time. But despite the challenges, including others from outside the Church brings its own richness. I think it’s a risk worth taking.
Archbishop Sentamu when interviewed for The Weddings Project used his own analogy for the Church. He described church as being like a party – God’s party – and we were the first to arrive. We have been asked to hand out the drinks, take people coats and welcome other guests. It’s not our party, it never was, we are guests just like anyone else but we have a job to do on behalf of the Host, and that’s to help more and more people to join the party.
The party goes on. There’s always plenty of room on the dance floor whether you prefer to be on the edge or right in the middle of things, don’t worry you’ll soon figure out the steps. And like all family ‘dos’ there is always the potential for a fight in the car park.