I sat in the back of the church on Sunday. It is not my normal spot but it where there was room. The back is where visitors tend to sit. Most visitors do not want to make a fuss. They tend to come in just as worship begins and want to sit as quickly as possible.
In front of me was a family with three young children, including a toddler that was enthusiastically exploring her new surroundings. Her parents were anxious. We have activity bags for young children to have during the service so that families may worship together. They are filled with crayons, drawing paper, and finger puppets. I went and got one and handed it to the parents. They were very grateful. I was then entertained all hour as the little girl repeatedly put things back in the bag and then with equal delight, ooooo-ed as every “new thing” was drawn out.
Another family came in just as the rite of baptism was beginning. I recognized them as connected to the baptism family. Their eyes were quickly scanning the room trying to catch up realizing they made it just in time. I wanted to make sure they could follow along, so I left my pew, crossed the aisle and handed them my hymnal open to the correct page. With little fuss, they could now easily join in.
Sitting directly in front of me was a young man on his own. I did not recognize him. When it came time to share the peace, I introduced myself and said that I did not think I had met him before. He introduced himself and said that was because this was his first visit. I welcomed him and told him I was a staff member so if he had any questions, I could answer them. He seemed glad that I was friendly but not pushy.
Finally, the last thing I noticed sitting in the back pews was that I was not the only person to greet and welcome each of these visitors. They were warmly approached by both our members and our pastor. They all had different reasons for attending. I do not know if any of them will return. I also do not know if attending Sunday morning church is part of their regular routine. What I do know is that these folks were welcomed, heard a good message and received Holy Communion. I hope those experiences stay with them and overshadow their initial anxiety they may have felt at the beginning.
My model for welcome and hospitality has always been the Benedictine monastic tradition. Benedictine monasteries embody true hospitality. The Rule of St. Benedict says that, “all guests are to be welcomed and received as Christ. Each must be respected for who she/he is and for the reason the person has come.”
I hope that our visitors to Faith Lutheran Church felt that same welcome. It did not take much effort and time to be genuine and warm to those I did not recognize. It did not take away from my own worship experience.
The simple act of noticing others and extending ourselves in service is at the heart of Christian community.
These people may never know their visit to Faith has helped me experience welcome and hospitality in a new way. They made an impact on me.
And who knows - I may sit in the back more often - on purpose.