What does it mean to be welcoming?
For me, there’s a real art to how you welcome others into a space and place unfamiliar to them. Taking into consideration what it takes for someone to enter a space and place they’ve never been before, to mix with people they’ve never met, to experience a totally new and foreign atmosphere, how difficult do you suppose that might be?
We get comfortable in the places we’re familiar with. We understand our own customs and ways of doing things. We are well aware of the standard verbiage used in the settings we frequent. Do we take the time to look at and understand the barriers persons who have never experienced in person, what we find so routine and ordinary?
What we take for granted, maybe so very foreign to those who have mustered up all the nerve they can to walk through our doors.
In Leviticus 19:34 we hear, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” In other words, we are to make those who come our way as comfortable as possible, going out of our way to make them feel as if they belong.
This past Sunday we had a number of first-time guests, but one, in particular, captured my attention. We had a teenage girl who came. Now listen to me, she came to church for the first time. Not to Preston Hollow for the first time, her first time in any church. Her step-mom had visited with us before and told her she wanted her to come. The young girl asked if she would be expected to recite Bible verses, but she didn’t know any. The young girl asked if she would stand out. The young girl was most likely filled with trepidation to come into a foreign world. I’m sure she has heard much about the judgementalism encountered in churches. I’m sure she’s probably heard or witnessed how churches can take on a condemning attitude. It’s not unlikely that she has even heard of the struggles our denomination is going through when it comes to accepting all persons. Add to all that she probably knows about the church, the fact she might have to be in a place with strange and incomprehensible rituals everyone but her is familiar with.
This teenage girl came. She not only came to worship, but she also came forward and received communion. Something she’s never done. Something she didn’t grow up with.
Do you think she felt welcomed? My hope and prayer are she could feel an immense amount of love and acceptance. There has been a shift going on recently, I’m not even sure it’s been noticed by all. There is a very friendly and engaging spirit pervading our building. It no longer seems like cliques, but rather it seems as if everyone is being engaged and welcomed, accepted, and made to feel a part.
There’s something happening in our midst, my friends. God is present with us. God is sending new persons our way. Are we ready? Are we willing to let go of what we think we need and make sure those coming are presented with what they need? In Hebrews 13:2 we hear, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Oftentimes we get so caught up in wanting the church to be what it’s always been. That’s natural, we all get really comfortable when things are familiar. We don’t give a second thought about reciting a prayer or a creed, we’ve done it for so long. We delude ourselves into believing EVERYBODY knows them. The world is changing, and we can no longer take for granted EVERYBODY knows what to do, say, and sing in church. We have to go the extra mile in helping others see and experience God’s love through us. We can’t assume EVERYBODY knows where the restrooms are. We can’t assume EVERYBODY knows and is comfortable with how we worship. We can’t assume EVERYBODY automatically knows Jesus loves them. What we do, what we say, how we accommodate the stranger in our midst, will speak volumes for years to come in that stranger’s life. We may meet a stranger when they enter, but hopefully, they will leave feeling as if they’ve met a new friend.
I don’t know what courage it must have taken for our guest to come and be with us. My prayer is she found a place where she can encounter the Holy of Holies. We are the face and presence of God to each person. When we understand this, we conduct ourselves with a higher degree of compassion, love, mercy, and grace. Will we be the welcoming face of Jesus this Sunday?
Your fellow traveler on the Way,