'All are welcome,' even graffiti artists and sign vandals

Rev. Jo P. Popham
The Rev. Jo Popham

Recently we have suffered from vandalism at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea.

We were surprised to see graffiti on our sign at the back entrance to the church. It was spray-painted with a not-so talented tag with no identifying markings. And several times the front sign facing U.S. Highway 98 announcing worship times and special events was broken, and letters were moved or broken or taken.

In the first case, a talented graffiti artist — our son who is hired to do graffiti art for special occasions in New Orleans — suggested a graffiti removing agent called Goof Off that works remarkably well.

The signage out front of the church is another matter. This is a new sign that replaced a larger one that was damaged beyond repair in one of the many storms. Most troubling is that whenever the sign reads “All Are Welcome” the “All” invariably has been taken. If we had room, our sign would read “All are Welcome. No Exceptions!” All are welcome, however, not withstanding what our sign might read.

Our Lord Jesus Christ distilled all the commandments of God down to two: love God and love your neighbor. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all

your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as

yourself” (Luke 10:27). Loving our neighbor as ourselves is hard work. How can we love our neighbor? And do we really have to love everyone?

What about those who do not believe as we do? What about those who think we are beyond redemption — which begs the question of who is to judge another? “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions” (Romans 14:1). Indeed, “who are we to pass judgment on another” (14:4)?

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? ... Why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (14:10). One day “each of us will be accountable to God” (14:12). God welcomes all. Our Lord Jesus welcomes all.

But what about those who hate us? “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). Must we really love and welcome everyone? “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you (Romans 15:7). “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14).

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). “There is no longer Jew or

Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

All of us may not worship using the same words. We may not use the same translation of Holy Scripture. We may see the world very differently, but we are all God’s. We are all loved. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church often reminds us that if it isn’t about love, then it isn’t about God! All are loved! All are welcome! Even graffiti artists and sign vandals.

The Rev. Jo Popham is rector at St. Andrews By-the-Sea in Destin.