Open Hearts, Open Doors, A Church for Others

The promise of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open
Doors takes on new meaning when it’s lived out by a church in a former communist
country that lives the promise by becoming a church for others–a church in
service to the poor, the imprisoned, the ill and the abandoned.

This is written from Varna, Bulgaria where I’m attending a meeting of the Connectional Table, a coordinating body of the global United Methodist Church. We just concluded an evening of remarkable music and storytelling about the church in Bulgaria.

For centuries Bulgarians have experienced occupation and oppression for more than a score of years. From 1948 to 1990 Bulgaria suffered under the yoke of communist rule and Bulgarian Christians had to go underground to survive. Building were confiscated and property appropriated. Worship and public Bible study put people at great risk. Individual Christians were imprisoned, and no doubt, some were killed.

There were so many moving stories and musical performances tonight in The United Methodist Church building in Varna that I must to think about them before writing in order to do them justice.

But one small moment stood out for me. Our host Bedros Altinun explained that during the cold, hard winter of 2006, the church in downtown Varna offered warm shelter and hot food for the city’s poor in a land that knows poverty. (I was told unemployment runs as high as forty percent in some places.) Throughout the cold winter the church provided hot food and warm shelter for those who had neither.

“We are a church for others,” Bedros said.

These people who have themselves known what it’s like to be set aside, abused and punished for their faith are now expressing their faith by reaching out to those set aside, abused and suffering in the land that so recently abused them.

And then he said, “We are a people of open hearts and open doors.”

For those readers who don’t know this promise, it is the promise of the people of The United Methodist Church made through a media initiative about how newcomers are welcomed in local congregations in the United States. A promise. Not a catchy slogan, nor a tagline, nor a media gimmick. It’s a church going into the world and inviting those who are hungry to come and eat, and those who are cold to come and warm themselves. It’s the way we should welcome every person as an inclusive community.

The profound theological content of this promise was never more clear to me than on this night.

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