“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
Here in Churchland, we almost always believe ourselves to be welcoming and warm. We like to think that our parishes will greet newcomers with open arms, with smiles, with true Christian hospitality (just like our signs say we do!).
I was delighted this morning to receive such a greeting.
I was worshiping with friends at their church, so I walked into the building with them – but was still greeted by a greeter who made sure I had the books and bulletin. Before I had reached the pew (about 5 rows up) I’d heard “Good morning!” and “Hello!” with smiles from everyone I passed. During the peace a few folks made a special effort to come over to me, even when (especially when?) they knew I was with my friends. Coffee hour was more of the same – people introducing themselves, people offering me coffee (bless!), people engaging in polite conversations.
They didn’t ignore me.
They didn’t try to get me on a committee.
They didn’t try to hand me envelopes.
They didn’t stare at me awkwardly.
They didn’t hover around in large groups trying to convince me to bring all my young friends with me next time.
They simply welcomed me. It was lovely. It was how a church should be. It was comfortable and casual. They enjoyed my being there, they invited me to return, they were happily shocked to discover that I was a priest (though a few laughed that my knowledge of the BAS had been a clue of my being a regular church-goer!).
It was the type of reception that everyone hopes for when they enter a church. It was the type of reception I hope and pray everyone will receive when they enter a new worship space. But, sadly, I know that this is not always the case. Many of us have had negative experiences of being the stranger (I’ve been kicked out of pews, I’ve been told I’m worshiping wrong, I’ve been told my sandals are inappropriate in a church…)
So today I celebrate the welcome I received. I celebrate every church that lives out this welcoming ministry at every opportunity. I pray that every church might be as welcoming as they think they are, so that we can show those walking through our doors that we truly live out the Gospel.
What are the best welcomes you have received in a worshiping community?