Matthew 25:44 – Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?" Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." (NRSV)
Proverbs 18:16a – A gift opens doors. (NRSV)
In 1948, J. Calvin Reid published a collection of stories under the title Birdlife in Wington. Wington is an imaginary town, and all the characters are birds with very human qualities.
One of my favourite Wington stories is about a church usher. He greets people at the door and then walks ahead of them down the aisle. He stops, turns, and gestures with his extended arm where the people may be seated. Instead of finding grateful people, the usher discovers that the people slipped into a pew towards the back of the church. His face turns red and slightly embarrassed as he makes his way to the door of the church, prepared once again to give the gift of welcoming.
Today, the ushers in my church do not lead people to a pew, for they are greeters, not ushers. However, greeters and ushers still do an important job: offering the gift of hospitality, opening the door to worship and fellowship, and to the congregation and its work. They open the door of friendship, help, and support.
The Old and New Testaments both prize hospitality. There were no Tim Hortons® or McDonalds® where a hungry traveller could be nourished. Family members, friends, and even strangers were known to offer food, shelter, and safety. Back in the 1960s, the churches that I served never locked their doors. Often in the morning, a note of thanks was found for shelter, safety, and food deliberately placed in the kitchen for travellers. Today, churches are locked. Ten minutes after worship begins, two men lock the doors of the church where I worship. Though modern times call for new measures, the church's coffee hour serves the function of hospitality.
However, the church's coffee hour sometimes impedes the goal of hospitality as worshippers rush to have refreshment with their friends, leaving strangers and visitors alone. One Sunday, there were no tables and chairs, and the people formed circles with their friends and blocked out the newcomers. Another experiment took place when greeters were placed at the entrance to the coffee hour. The idea was to spot the newcomers, take them to a table, and introduce them. Sadly, this noble effort was discontinued when some so-called newcomers were actually some real old-timers who had been away. The howl of disapproval was loud.
If the gift of opening the door to a congregation is to be realized, three things must take place. Firstly, be assertive. Take the initiative and speak to someone. Secondly, volunteer to be a greeter or usher. It will be a rewarding experience. Thirdly, think of the ways that you like hospitality and offer greater hospitality to others. Strangers in our midst feel uncomfortable; they hunger for acceptance; and they want to be released from the feelings of not knowing anyone and of not fitting in. Giving the gift of hospitality opens the door of friendship, of companionship, and of acceptance.
Prayer: Gracious God, forgive us for not being attentive to the newcomers who come to worship and to be part of the time of fellowship. Forgive us for serving our own needs above those of others. We accept Your forgiveness. Help us to live as ones who open doors. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
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Listen while you read: "Jesus Lover Of My Soul" (Lyrics)