My work as a priest has brought me into many recent conversations on what it means to practice welcome.
The church I’m currently serving is very modern.
Everything from the chairs and floor plan to the roofline and positioning on our property communicate a 21st century expression of faith. But if you pause occasionally, you’ll notice we have many small elements of other voices bringing their own stories from other sacred settings.
Stained glass salvaged from a closed church, a cross made from reclaimed pew wood, hymn board, and this small pew. Large enough for one adult to sit comfortably (or perhaps two small children) and made specifically for a place in a church where there wasn’t room for more, but where it was better to have a small seat than none at all.
It is better to make a place for one more; that is the Christian ethos. Come and join, we’ve made room for you.
These elements illustrate how our sacred architecture orients us toward God, and how our physical space can shape our spiritual practice. Welcome means we ask and expect nothing of the stranger who joins us. The challenge of the Church is to see the stranger as sacred mystery. Like the three strangers who visited Abram, or the walker on the road to Emmaus, the unknown other bears the scent of God.
Churches often struggle not to see newcomers as new customers, potential pledging units, or fresh volunteers. We struggle to remember them as sacred gifts. Few people join a church because they want to fill up their calendar with new commitments and obligations, or because they have an excess of discretionary income. We forget our own arrival, how we came to the church as one in need. As children or as adults, we came to the church because we needed to be nurtured and affirmed and led into encounters with the divine. We would do well to remember.
Welcome is to see in each person the glow of Christ’s Transfiguration that would illumine our circle.
Welcome is to prepare a place for one who is still on the way. The bread of those not yet arrived. The cup of those still traveling.
Welcome is to find a place, to add space, to offer room. Welcome is physical, spiritual, and emotional room.
Welcome is this little pew, where there might have been none. Because there is always one more on the way.