This winter I regularly drove past a five-foot red “Open” banner with bright yellow lettering. It was planted right in front of an obviously vacant storefront with “Barbecue” on the door. Day after day when driving past I’d sneak a peek to see if anything was there. Was the banner a sign of hopeful aspiration that something delicious was coming? Was it a tie to the past, a hint of something that used to be there? Or was it just an illusion, a ruse, a hoax?
Suddenly churches I visit with front yard signs proclaiming “welcome!” came to mind. It’s hard to tell what the welcome message is actually saying until you go through the door. In almost all instances the welcome waiting inside is sincere. But sometimes the way we welcome is designed for the guest while other times it seems designed according to the host’s comfort level or expectation. Occasionally the welcome sign feels like an illusion: when a greeter stands blocking the door or aisle while they chat with a friend, when a hug is not offered but demanded, when the flow of service assumes everyone there knows what to do next without explanation, when worship finishes and no one speaks to the visitor.
Several years ago, United Methodist Communications introduced 2 simple and powerful practices. 1) “Rule of 3” asks us to spend the first three minutes after worship connecting with someone you don’t know before rushing off to greet a friend or pursue church business. Did you know that the thing most likely to help a newcomer feel welcome is when we introduce them to someone else 2) The “circle of 10” asks us to be aware of others within 10 feet of a conversation we are having and to invite them into the circle. This may mean shifting the topic to include the new person(s) as well.
It delights my heart when I visit one of the many MidMaine church that has something real to offer by way of welcome: outreaching community ministry with neighbors, soul satisfying worship, deep dives into scripture, greeters oriented to what makes visitors welcome rather than what they expect from visitors. All of these are banners welcoming people to Jesus Christ’s life transforming love.
Yesterday, I drove by the “Barbecue” place. The red banner was gone. They never had a chance because there was nothing inside. On Sunday, many of us will read a story form the Book of Acts 8: 26-40 about Philip and the Ethiopian official. It is a story of deep hospitality in which one man overflowing with Christ’s love boldly shares it with another man who has seen a sign and is hungry to be fed, both interrupting what they were doing so that they could make the most of a moment God provided. May you know that same holy boldness as you invite each other to share the journey.
In God’s Grace, Karen
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.