Beyond Inclusion: Belonging

Last week, I was invited with other clergy to tour and bless the new Texas Children’s Hospital North Austin Campus. The Senior Vice-President of the facility, Russ Williams, talked about how they didn’t just want to be inclusive, they wanted families to feel they belonged. Hence having clergy people there, representing the Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Latter-Day Saints, Protestant Christian, and Unitarian Universalist faiths.

That idea, though, has stuck with me. The difference between being included versus belonging.

On the path between first-time visitor to Live Oak, to taking a leadership role, there are several thresholds a person crosses. First, for most people, is looking at our website, seeing what we’re about, then making the decision to come to the church. Second is that first time they come, usually on a Sunday morning. For many people, this is a daunting step. What will it be like? What should I wear? Will I have to introduce myself?

After that threshold come the formal thresholds — attending the Exploring Membership class, deciding to become a member, and signing the membership book. And there are informal thresholds, such as deciding to sign up for a class, or to serve on a team, or becoming friends with another member.

When does “belonging” happen?

I don’t believe there is one answer. For some, that feeling of belonging to a church comes swiftly, with the new membership ceremony, or the first time they help make something happen at Live Oak. Maybe it happens the first time a visitor asks YOU a question, and you know the answer. Or when you go out to lunch with friends from church.

Belonging goes both ways, of course. You become a member of the church and thus we commonly say, in a non-territorial way, that you “belong” to the church. We care for each other. And the church then belongs to you. There is ownership involved. If there is a piece of scrap paper on the floor, you don’t look around thinking “they” need to pick it up – you pick it up. Because its your church, not their church.

What does belonging feel like, to you?