As I mentioned in my previous post, “All are sought,” which built off of the concept of “all are welcome,” I want to expand on an idea of accompaniment, something the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seems to be moving towards embracing more and more.
Accompaniment in this sense means meeting people where they are at, and walking alongside them, being an embodiment of God’s limitless love. By it’s very nature it implies a multi-directional relationship. No longer is it the “I know the truth so listen to me” approach to evangelism, its rather a “what do you think and feel? This is what I think and feel…” There is a sense of mutuality, and a willingness to be authentic, honest, humble, and transparent.
Accompaniment is a relationship. Specifically, it is a multi-directional relationship. I had a seminary professor who helped me think about this as it relates to a promising theology (if you want to hear more on this, just let me know and I will dedicate a future post on this). A promising theology, a theology based on the concept that God creates us as God’s children and chooses and wants to be in relationship with us, means that God meets us as we are, and never stops seeking us. This isn’t a God who says “you do exactly this or else” (that would be a hierarchical God). Rather, we believe in a God who chooses to be in relationship with us, and calls us to co-create with God (see Genesis 2 as an example of how we are called to participate in the naming process of creatures for example). Because of this, God limits Godself in order to have an authentic relationship with us, where God values us for who we are (as fallible as we are) because God loves us. God wants to bring about the best of us, but even when we slip up, God is still there loving us all the same, whether we recognize that or not. In terms of being with others, this means that we might have ideas and perspectives, but our ideas and perspectives cannot trump the ability to meet our neighbor where they are at. The fact that they are another Child of God, created in God’s image just like us, good but not perfect, is reason enough to walk alongside each other and accompany each other. It’s also reason enough to call us and lead us into relationship with each other.
By choosing to be in a relationship with another person, we risk. We risk feeling hurt. We risk getting into conflict. We risk having our views and perspectives challenged. We also risk time. Relationships require time and investment. (The ELCA explains their take on this, especially as it relates to mission.) If we don’t take a risk of being in a relationship I wonder, do we ever really have an authentic relationship with our neighbor? With the willingness to risk, we embody God’s love. We participate in the building and breaking in of the kingdom of God. And, we show a sense of valuing our neighbor and how God might be calling them and/or working through and with them.
The relationship though is both ways. Not only are we taking this risk, our neighbor is too. Hence, its a thing of mutuality. So when we ask, “what do you think? What do you feel?” We really mean this authentically. We meet our neighbor where we are at, and we listen and talk openly and transparently. We are honest about what we believe and value, but we are open to hearing another perspective. This is an example of being able to speak difficult things in love.
Practically, what does this look like? The ELCA again explains this within the global mission perspective, as they see it as “Accompaniment in Practice.” For an alternate take, consider this hypothetical example. Assume you are part of a local congregation which is trying to reach out and meet your neighbors in the community without expectation of return or gain of any kind. You don’t just put a sign out front. You go out to the local coffee shops. You walk around the neighborhoods, and you say hello to who might be by. If someone looks like they need some help, ask if you can help for a few minutes. If you see someone on the side of the road with a sign ask them how you can really help? Some times you might be surprised what you are told. Perhaps when someone says “any little bit helps” they really mean it. Or, perhaps when someone says they need help, it might be that they are living at or near the real poverty line and because of that they might be able to pay for food between wages and food stamp support, but they may come up short on toiletries or toilet paper. Yes, it may not be the fanciest way to give or serve, but its honest and a real example of accompanying one’s neighbor- helping them out and meeting them where they are at.
Now, to bring accompaniment and the idea of a multi-directional relationship full circle, we have to admit that by being in a relationship we will be changed by the relationship by the other person or people we are in relationship with. So, just as we give of ourselves in our time, listening, and honest perspective, we also receive the gifts of a relationship and all that goes with it. The ELCA describes this well as Accompaniment in Receiving. Just as we are loving and gracious in giving, we have to be willing and able to receive. It’s kind of like if you have ever done a service project, or have heard about others’ experiences in doing service projects. Often, those who thought they were going to do the work, were instead served because of the hospitality, graciousness, and the love of God they found in their neighbor they may have been serving or serving alongside. Hence, the service and love goes both ways. This is accompaniment. You are joined together in relationship to give and receive, to share and learn, to love and grow.
Bringing this back to our series, what does this mean for all are welcome? What does this mean for all are sought? What’s next? The next post in this series will take a step back and consider what this means for a local congregation. Particularly, how is a congregation to really be an “all are welcome,” and “all are sought place,” to help its people grow in their ability and willingness to embody accompaniment, and truly be consistent to the congregation’s creeds and faith? Obviously, I think it can be done. But some have raised questions around what limits there might be for this. So we will explore that in the next post. As always, if you have comments, questions, thoughts, or ideas please share them. What do you think? Can a congregation embody all of this and do so as core to its life and mission as a body of Christ?