In a world where there seems to be so much hatred, fear and division at the moment, perhaps one of the most important things that the Church can do is to welcome people and offer hospitality. It’s certainly what Jesus would advocate us do. Welcoming people was something that Jesus took very seriously. In fact, it was at the heart of pretty much everything he did.
In a fabulous sermon entitled, ‘It’s the Little Things That Matter: A Theology of Welcome’, US Baptist Pastor Nancy Petty articulates this beautifully. She says,
"Many of the narratives found in each of the four gospels center (sic) around Jesus’ teachings about what it means to welcome someone, to include them, to show hospitality. Before there was healing, there was a welcome. Before a miracle, there was a welcome. He welcomed sinners and outcasts to join him at the table to eat. He welcomed the little children, those considered by the culture to be invisible, to come to him. And he welcomed the women in his life, also a cultural boundary not to be crossed, to sit with him and discuss things of importance."
I could spend hours trying to communicate all that Nancy has said but still not put things nearly as well so instead I encourage you to read or listen to her . If you do not have access to the internet but would like to read it, please ask me for a copy.
I mention all of this because welcoming people is hugely important, because each and every one of us can play a part in welcoming others and, because, as a church community, we long to be - and be seen and known to be - a welcoming, hospitable presence in the wider community of which we are part. It is the little things that matter and even the smallest of actions can be transformative.
You will perhaps recall that in this newsletter back in June 2016, I began with the Milton Jones joke, "Some people see the church as a giant helicopter. They're scared to get too close in case they get sucked into the rotas". I then reported that the Annual General Church Meeting had decided to pilot a rota-less approach to worship at Martin Way.
As you will be aware, we have been pretty much rota-free ever since and, for the most part, it is working well. There is a need, however, for people to commit themselves to being at the door each Sunday to welcome people and so, from now on, there will be a sign up sheet in the coffee lounge each week to allow people to put their names down to do this on future Sundays etc. Even if you don’t feel able to do that, please don’t think that only those at the door can offer a welcome.
We recognise that this might feel uncomfortable. As Pastor Petty acknowledges, ‘Speaking to the stranger sitting beside you or in front of you or behind you in worship is not easy for everyone. Getting up and walking across the room to sit with someone who is sitting alone can be uncomfortable. Stepping away from a conversation with a trusted friend to speak to a visitor is hard to do. Listening, truly listening to someone whom you disagree with can be frustrating. Practicing a theology of welcome can stretch us all. Yet, developing a theology of welcome that offers genuine hospitality is paramount for this church and every place that would call themselves a church. If we don’t practice a theology of welcome, we exclude the Christ that welcomed all.’ Once again, I don’t think I could have said it any better.
With every blessing,