I saw a sign outside a Christian church: “Come as you are”. I thought about my small town childhood: about getting up on Sunday mornings to get ready for Sunday school, about the weeks when Sunday school was cancelled and we had to sit stiffly in pews instead of colouring, and about tea and cookies with everyone else in their Sunday bests after the service. It was a thing we did for years – every Sunday unless we were camping – but when we moved to a suburb, Mom stopped taking us to church and I never asked to go back.
“Come as you are”: it sounds like permission to wear jeans to church, or maybe to show up without faith. It sounds like an unconditional welcome for all; a lovely invitation to enter no matter who you are, what you believe, or what you need.
It turns out, it is about sin: come though you are a sinner. You don’t have to be perfect – you don’t have to have it all figured out – but bring it all to Jesus/God now. And since there is so much variety within Christianity, there is controversy about what it means and whether or not this kind of invitation is a good idea. But to me, an outsider, it sounds functional: If your religion is going to work, people have to show up. If you want people to be saved, they have to first come in their unsaved condition.
As a whole, Pagan religions aren’t much into “sin” or being saved, but we can get hung up on other things. I’ve spoken to many a new Pagan who has not done any rituals for themselves or who express reluctance to run rituals for their coven or group because they feel like they don’t know enough yet. They want to make sure it is going to be perfect before they even attempt it. They put off setting up an altar until they can collect all the perfect tools, and they put off praying wile they seek a deep call to a patron deity, and they put off attending a public ritual until they’ve read their way through a few lists of “books every Pagan should read“. I’m as guilty as them of not starting a morning ritual because I fear that I won’t get it right and I’m not sure I can be perfect in doing it daily. We may not be concerned with sin, but we can put off dealing with our spiritual needs due to perfectionism.
The other half of the saying “come as you are” is “but don’t stay that way”. The Christians will sometimes quote Jesus as saying: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:11) and explain that it means not to return to sinful choices.
Though we may not be interested in being saved, our religion is only as good as the changes it makes in us. In my Paganism, we come to circle, grove, or altar with no fancy robes, tools, or excessive knowledge needed, and in being there, we change in ways we choose and are changed in ways we never imagined. Whether we enter sacred space alone or in community, we come as we are, but we don’t stay that way.