Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "Jesus Lover Of My Soul"1 (Lyrics)
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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Thank you, Richard. Well said.
I love your prayer Richard. Thank you.
Thank you, Richard for a wonderful reminder and challenge.
Richard, church life is indeed challenging. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for reminding us to be inclusive, warm, and welcoming.
This was a great devotional. It gently poked while making me laugh!
Thank you. I am forwarding this reading today to our minister. Coffee time at our church is tight circles just like you describe with little to no thought for newcomers. Coffee times can be very hurtful for even our own members who are not in a clique. Churches should be the easiest groups to break into, most often they are the hardest.
Dear Clive Warden,
I like these words, “They hunger for acceptance.”
Let us remember that when we ourselves are strangers visiting in a church, we might not be the only strangers.
For God’s sake.
This is such a good devotional. I think all churches should have this devotional to read and learn from.
Good for you to share this and hopefully the readers will learn and share with others who need to realize what goes on sometimes.
Thank you for submitting this devotional. It delivers a good reminder to us to be good greeters and show a warm welcome to those who come to worship with us. It makes quite a difference to how comfortable a person feels about a congregation if they receive a handshake and welcoming words.
I heard about a church who used blue cups to identify visitors…. still, the people drinking from blue cups stood there all by themselves. A “Visitor” badge implies they won’t be back anyway. Hopefully, we would treat our “Guest” better!
Our church uses those who are natural social butterflies as “Roaming Greeters”, provided with a badge identifying them as such. Anyone who speaks to a newcomer cannot leave them without introducing them to someone else.
Good Morning, Richard. Thank you for your devotional. We now live in a small community and county. At our church we absolutely know who is visiting. However, in our previous location, a large city, it was not the case. I would be frustrated with people who did not speak to “strangers.” Once someone said, “Well, I don’t know if they are already members…our church was much larger.” I tried very politely to say, “Does it matter as long as you don’t know them, it would be nice to know them.” Human nature doesn’t seem to work that way, does it?
Your thoughts are appreciated.
Hello Richard Worden,
Thank you for today’s devotional. By any chance, during your coffee hour when tables and chairs are set up, have you thought of having a “Newcomer” section, where all the Newcomers can gather, get to know each other at least, but also so regular congregants can readily see who they are…..because while some of your parishioners may recognize those who are new…others may not realize who are new and who are not.
If you’ve not tried it…maybe it’d be worth a go.
Take care and keep your devotionals coming.
Thank you for your great message. I am one of those who greets. It’s one of the wonderful jobs I do at church and I love it. When I am not greeting, I sit in the back row because sure enough, that’s where the new person will come in and sit. I have welcomed quite a few folks there.
I wonder if people realize what a privilege it is to serve at church (or anywhere else for that matter, i.e. supermarket lines). It only takes a smiling face to let someone know they are welcomed.
I remember when churches didn’t lock their doors. It was my safe place on Saturday mornings when I was alone.
God bless you and keep writing.
O Richard! While greeters are well meaning, I would that they could be sensitive, as well, to those shy and fearful to whom being greeted is a very difficult experience. Especially an enthusiastic greeting that singles them out. I still hesitate outside the door till a few people are there ahead of me and then steal in behind them, pick up an order of service and avoid having my hand shaken and being asked how I am? Why can’t I just go in quietly, smile at them without having to make conversation, take an order of service from the ones on the pile and go meditatively to my seat? Why can’t there be a difference from person to person, rather than one size fits all and ‘hearty’ simply doesn’t fit someone like me whose mind is on the service rather than socializing? Just writing this to you, makes me anxious… You have written an EXCELLENT devotional today that has made me see your side of things. Thank you. Your writing is excellent and I’m sure you are a very good greeter for most everyone else.