Welcoming the Stranger: Dundonald Elim

I know, I know, I’ve been a very naughty boy and not posted here for a couple of weeks. Life has been rather busy and the blog is rather low down on the priority list. Nonetheless, I know you’ve all missed me, but never fear, I’m back!

I’ve been rather consumed with church issues this past while as there are a few major decisions looming not too far ahead. So expect a fair amount of church-related musings on the horizon. Anyway, to follow up on an earlier, grumpy post (rant/moan), I thought I’d better balance it with something more positive. Without boring the pants off everyone by rehearsing my faith and church journey, I’ve been to a lot of different churches with lots of different theologies and lots of different styles of worship. Over those years of church-sampling, it’s been difficult not to rate/score their various facets: worship (hymns/songs); preaching; doctrine/theological precision (IMHO), and; welcoming the stranger. This post concerns the final element – and by far the most welcoming church that I’ve ever visited (about 10 years ago now), the Elim church in Dundonald.

Founded during the years of the First World War, Elim is a Pentecostal denomination with over 500 churches throughout the UK and Ireland, and which works in more than 40 other nations. Its name comes from the biblical Elim (Exod. 15:27) which was an oasis in the desert, visited by the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. Thus, the aim of the early Elimites was that their churches should, similarly, be places of rest and refreshment. Growing out of the Welsh revival, the Elim movement carries with it much of the ethos of the holiness movement, a “congregational” ecclesiology, and an emphasis on evangelism. In fact, its theology is distinctly reformed and within the broad scope of very, conservative Evangelicalism. However, its special contribution to the church universal is its perspective on the person, work and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Firstly, the Elim movement is Trinitarian but advocates the double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son (filioque). Secondly, while the Spirit is active in the work of convicting of sin, repentance, regeneration and sanctification, according to the Elim movement, “the believer is also promised an enduement of power as the gift of Christ through the baptism in the Holy Spirit with signs following. Through this enduement the believer is empowered for fuller participation in the ministry of the Church, its worship, evangelism and service.”

As someone who had recently left a variant-form of Pentecostalism, visiting the local Elim seemed an eminently sensible thing to do and I’m very glad I did, for it left an indelible mark on my views of what “church” ought to be. As a complete stranger, I was very warmly welcomed at the door by two greeters. After this good, initial impression, I’d barely managed to get bum on seat before someone sat down beside me and introduced himself – “William”. Yes, I still remember his name. He chatted with me and sat with me throughout the service; I was not left alone as a faceless, nameless stranger, anonymous and insignificant. In that simple act of reaching out to an “other”, William, and the church he represented, demonstrated with ringing clarity what it means to lavish Christian love and care. An outsider, I was nevertheless made to feel like one of the gathered saints, there to praise the God of love. I’ve never forgotten it.

Ultimately, I couldn’t assent to the Elim’s views on the person and work of the Spirit, which always walks a tightrope – those without the special “baptism” of the Spirit almost inevitably struggle with seeing themselves as second-class citizens of the kingdom (common critique of this type of pentecostal belief). However, in no church before or since have I ever seen the newcomer and stranger so welcomed. I don’t know whether this was solely the policy of that one church in Dundonald, or of the whole Elim movement, or simply one particular member acting alone, but if all Christian churches would instigate such a policy, what an incredible impact we could effect! Churches can be some of the coldest, most cliquey, unwelcome places known on God’s good earth – and it’s something we can and must change.

For more information see: Elim UK or Elim Ireland.

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