By the Rev. Cara Scriven | Tacoma District Superintendent
[dropcap type=”1″]A[/dropcap]s a pastor serving a local church, I enjoyed preaching and worshiping with my congregation but I did miss sitting with my family each week. While I am only a couple of weeks into my new position, I am enjoying visiting churches within the District on Sunday mornings with my family.
I know that as a preacher I was always nervous when the district superintendent arrived; I’ll try my best to remember that. I often wondered if I did enough to prepare and if they would take note of all of my mistakes. With the roles reversed I’m finding that I do notice good preaching and preparation but they are not the primary thing I am interested in each Sunday. Instead, my attention is repeatedly drawn to the hospitality that is offered to visitors upon arrival.
Two weeks in to my superintendency, I can say I have been impressed with how welcoming churches have been to my family. In one church, my eldest daughter served as an acolyte when a youth from the faith community wasn’t available (she misses being able to do that). In another, my children were warmly greeted and invited to Sunday School all within a few minutes of walking in the door.
Hospitality of this sort is so infectious that it could easily cover any bumpy sermons or droning choral pieces; which thankfully we’ve been spared of so far as well. And just in case it needs to be said, the hospitality our family receives before we are recognized, and the warmth we witness other visitors receiving, is gold compared to any special treatment we might get out of some form of deference.
[pull_quote_right]While much of Sunday worship is dependent on the pastor, genuine hospitality stretches far beyond the capacity of any one person.[/pull_quote_right] While much of Sunday worship is dependent on the pastor, genuine hospitality stretches far beyond the capacity of any one person. It is true that a pastor can train, equip, and even educate a congregation on how to be hospitable. Yet, on Sunday morning, it is the responsibility of the congregation to warmly welcome and invite visitors into the community. I firmly believe that a congregation can have a great preacher, but without a welcoming atmosphere few visitors will ever return.
Hospitality isn’t just the behavior of church members on Sundays. It is also the care that has been given to the building so new folks easily find their way, bulletins that don’t assume one knows all the secret handshakes, and it is the effort to think of those who need facilities that are accessible or a nursery so they can experience a moments calm. Again, these things can’t happen by a pastor’s sheer force of will but require a community committed to welcoming everyone.
Welcoming the stranger in our midst is an essential theme throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. For example, we see this theme expressed in the stories of Abraham and Sarah, the commandments given in Deuteronomy, Jesus welcoming the little children, and in the sending of missionaries to the Gentiles.
As we continue to work to be the hands of feet of God in our communities, it is vital for us to welcome our neighbors with open arms and genuine hospitality. We don’t do this so that our churches will grow, but because we are convinced that this is the most faithful way to live out the Gospel value of welcoming the stranger.
One final note. Hospitality isn’t something that has to end on Sunday morning. There is a tasty loaf of blueberry zucchini bread that arrived at our door yesterday that is evidence of that!