Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)
Is hospitality limited to a heartfelt greeting on Sunday morning or in providing tasty food to share after the service? Certainly, that is all part of it, and I am especially thankful to our ushers, greeters and fellowship team members that intentionally try to make Messiah a joyful home for so many. Yet when I ask our newest families why they felt called to join Messiah, nearly all have the genuine, open hearted nature of our people at the top of their list. Members take the risk to introduce themselves to strangers. Members wanted to know about the visitor and seek to meet their needs, as much as welcome them into our facility and church family. They report that there was no pressure to join us as members, but instead, we met them as they were and desired only what was best for them in their search for God. Our mission has been to build up Christ’s church not just our congregation, and this has been appreciated. So I also thank those who reach out informally to others they meet at church, as well as those who invite others in person to visit or through working on our website, newsletter, or evangelizing team. These practices are among our greatest and easily recognized assets in our evangelizing efforts, as they help people feel at home with the Christ in their lives. Even many members of our guest congregation, All Souls Episcopal, openly marvel at the welcome they have received on Sundays and in the gracious sharing of our facility.
Still, I see our hospitality in many other things; things perhaps easily overlooked. I remember as a volunteer with the Taize’ Community in France that much of the hospitality work was behind the scenes and in anticipation of potential visitors. The prepping of food, the making of beds, even the cleaning of rooms and tents were important acts of welcome, not drudgery. If our guests were hungry or uncomfortable, certainly they would be distracted from their spiritual quest needlessly. Multiple programs and small groups were common along with casual fellowship opportunities. These all helped build honest relationships. Those who had come initially because of the thousands of young adults already present but hesitated to join us in worship or service were intentionally invited by a team of young people sent as “the welcome in the fields.” People were approached no matter what nationality, race, gender, economic status, faith (or lack of faith), or any other divisive descriptor. Folks with tattoos, nose rings, and bright pink hair, along with those with disabilities or other differences were as welcome as anyone else. Yet, our own dress or common practices might be adjusted when amidst those of a different, stricter faith or culture, not out of obligation or political correctness, but so as to make them feel comfortable in being with us. Everything done was focused on welcoming people in the name of Jesus Christ, and thousands – many of them unchurched – came each week. Of those, many discovered new friendships and a faith they never expected.
Among the many things I learned from Br. Roger, the founder of that community, is that simple things matter. The mowing and care of our landscaping, the recent painting and woodwork on our old but beloved building, our fellowship times and cleaning days, those who volunteer to serve in altar guild, our health ministries or other ministries and nonprofits out in our community, along with those who might not have time but have funds to support our ministry, or those who offer prayers, hopes, ideas for new programs or groups, questions or a simple hello – whatever is done in Christ’s name can prove to be faith-building miracles in the making. In France, I discovered even the “ministry of toilet cleaning” (what I called one of my commonly assigned tasks) can become a loving, sacred experience. I see similar sacredness growing in the life that surrounds us here in Mechanicsville.
Christ is encountered through those “small” acts of love done in his name. Friendships form, and faith is shared or deepened as the Gospel comes alive through our ordinary lives. We have already seen the truth of this at Messiah as we and our shared ministry has grown. I expect more blessings are yet to be discovered. Rather than worrying about what you cannot do, I invite you only to consider what you can do, no matter how small it seems or infrequently. How can you help in or add to our welcoming ways? For Jesus has welcomed all of us to be part of his life, his ways, and his church.
The above pastoral letter was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2012 edition). To view the entire issue of The Messenger or to see the full calendar of events, visit: http://www.mlcas.org
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.
© 2012 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.