Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. (Matthew 10:40-42)"
When I read these words of Jesus this week, the first thing that popped into my mind was the familiar signs used for decades by the Episcopal Church. The signs are intended to convey the impression that a newcomer to a congregation of the Episcopal Church will experience a warm welcome when they join us for worship.
Some have recently suggested that this approach is flawed. First, it is a very passive approach. Maybe the signs should say “The Episcopal Church INVITES You!” and then we reinforce that by actually extending a personal invitation to worship with us or join us for study, prayer, fellowship, or service. Second, it may be false advertising. Strangers in our midst may come and go without experiencing an honest to goodness welcome. Someone may speak to them but there may not be an invitation to stay for fellowship nor any introductions. Third, those signs are often out of the way, hard to read, a little bit rusty, and, possibly, that’s the way we like them.
As we travel this summer, or anytime for that matter, I wonder if we can learn from the places we visit what it feels like to be truly welcomed. What expressions of hospitality represent a “cup of cold water” to us? Where do we feel truly included and valued by those to whom we are strangers? Can we learn anything from those experiences that will help us be a more inviting and welcoming congregation?
I recommend that you try this experiment whenever you are a stranger and sojourner and I invite you to share your experience and your suggestions with us upon your return. It could result in an epiphany!
In the meantime, when you see someone you don’t recognize before, during, or after a worship service at your church, consider it God’s prompting for you to greet them, invite them to stay for fellowship, pour them a cup of cold water (or coffee, or lemonade), and introduce them to some of your friends. If you want to be really welcoming, perhaps you might invite them to join you for Sunday brunch or tell them about the small group you belong to and ask them to attend with you. That would be the beginning of a real welcome!