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All Are Welcome

“When suffering constricts the heart, awe stretches it back out, making us more compassionate, more loving, more present.”

“All are welcome.”

We say this at and about church events all the time. In the jail we have it written on the bulletins we use for church services. It's a simple statement we often take for granted...and sometimes don't live up to. A couple weeks ago during a church service in the jail a woman named Yesi was talking to her bunkie. Their conversation was disruptive, and she seemed agitated, so I paused to ask her what was going on.

"I want to know about this right here." She pointed to the "All are welcome" statement in the bulletin. "Is it for real? Do you mean it?" She asked antagonistically. I answered, ”Yes, all are welcome,” but it was obvious Yesi was not convinced.

I watched Yesi throughout the service. The look on her face and body language softened as the service progressed. I invited her to help serve communion, and she hesitantly accepted the invitation. At the end of the service she approached me and said, “I am a queer, feminist, revolutionary punk rocker. I’ve been told the music I listen to is violent and has caused me to lead a sinful life. I love my music. I will not give it up. It brings me so much joy.” We talked for a long time. Yesi continued to share about all the ways and places she had been excluded.

I just happened to have Valarie Kaur’s book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, in my bag, so I gave it to Yesi. I thought it was the perfect choice for a “revolutionary punk rocker.” The next time I saw Yesi, I commented on how joy-filled and radiant she seemed. It was the first time I had ever seen her smile. Yesi replied, “When you feel welcome, the world is a different place.”

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