Recently I went to a church gathering that was not my own. Meaning, it was put together by others and I was largely an unknown. I had a role to play later in the evening, but for the first part, I was a woman walking into a church function alone.
It was hard.
I was hungry for faces to greet me, words of welcome to be shared, invitation to the meal to be offered. I was swimming in a sea of culture and people who I did not know and I wanted in the worst way to turn around and run, not walk, out of the door.
Every church member should have to endure this wrack. Every Sunday there are people coming into the building for the first time and they are not sure of the culture or climate or what is expected of them and if they are not greeted and warmed into the midst of community, no wonder they don’t come back
Welcome the stranger, Jesus teaches. Welcome welcome welcome welcome because you don’t know what they carry in their hearts and the courage it took to walk through the doors and the beauty they have to share and the ways they will shut down but good if they feel invisible. Welcome the stranger because you too once knew what it was to be a wanderer; lost, untethered, hopeful and longing for connection.
It is in our faith DNA, this knowing of the pain of being stranger in the midst of community.
So too is the mandate to welcome (have I mentioned this yet?).
I didn’t run out of the room. I stayed. But I didn’t eat, because I wasn’t invited.
How many people are hungering and thirsting for the meal that is grace and they come through our doors and leave without being invited to feast?
No wonder they don’t come back. I wouldn’t.