by Rev. Brendan Curran, Assoc. Minister         –          Dec 15, 2017

In the sermon I preached recently I talked a little bit about how showing up for others and offering our whole presence is no small gift.  Showing genuine interest and concern for strangers has real power.  In my sermon, I referenced a Sept. 2017 article from the Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” that talks about how social media has changed our lives.  The research shows that from 2007 on, since the invention of the smart phone, young people have reported spending less time being with friends, are less likely to seek a driver’s license, are dating less, are more likely to report feeling lonely and left out, and are less likely to get enough sleep.”  In this season, we celebrate welcoming the Christ child who comes to us as the stranger.   We can feel empowered knowing that just by simply gathering together in community and being welcoming to strangers and newcomers, we are participating in a process of transformation and healing in a time when people have become more and more isolated.

Many churches these days have “Welcome statements,” ours included.  We are a church; indeed we are a denomination that prioritizes making our desire to be welcoming abundantly clear in our messaging.   We have a statement in our bulletin on Sunday mornings that states, “whatever your race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic or marital status, variety of thoughts and beliefs, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” we welcome you!  You make our appreciation for the diversity and variety of the community of God’s creation evident with our rainbow doors.  These are beautiful messages and efforts.  The questions we need to ask ourselves when the rubber hits the road on Sunday mornings and in our daily lives are, “How do we practice that welcome?  How do we demonstrate that welcome on Sunday mornings and in life?  How do we concretely practice hospitality?”

It can become easy to become comfortable with our Sunday morning church routine.  It can become easy to fall into the familiar pattern of talking to the people we already know when we come to church.  This is understandable and sharing fellowship is a blessing.  We all need belonging and so we are also called on Sunday mornings to be making a conscious effort to widen the circle of warmth and fellowship to those who might be new.  In our tradition, ordained ministers are only one type of minister, ordained to preach and teach the word and offer the sacraments but we are actually ALL ministers.  We all have the responsibility to make strangers and newcomers feel welcome at our church.  I think this is something we’re good at doing!  This is just a friendly reminder to all of you to appreciate the value in what you do when you come together.  This public service announcement is simply to remind all of us to continue consciously practicing welcoming each other on Sunday mornings.  Someone might be waiting for you to show them your kindness.  A newcomer might need your warmth and friendship.  We can all offer that to each other and that’s how we build Beloved Community.

What are concrete ways we can practice welcome?  In the rule of St. Benedict, the saint instructed his monastic community in welcoming strangers saying, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, I came as a guest, and you received Me.” (Matt. 25:35).  This is something we can all have on our minds on Sunday morning when we gather together in worship!  How would you treat strangers and newcomers if you were consciously trying to, “receive them like Christ?”  So… we can start with that…

  • Practice receiving strangers like Christ. 
  • If you attend church regularly you can practice looking for new faces when you come to church. Introduce yourself to them!
  • Offer your smile.  Ask a stranger or newcomer how they are doing?
  • Invite them to sign the guest book.
  • Invite them to coffee hour.
  • While at coffee hour, look for one unfamiliar face and make it familiar.
  • Introduce them to a friend.
  • Let them know about some of the different things happening at church.

These all seem like very obvious things that you are probably already doing, but they are simple things that can be easy to forget to do.  We also forget that practicing these simple welcome gestures have a powerful impact.  Practicing welcoming is part of our ministry together whenever we gather.   Putting our welcome statements into practice has the power to brighten someone’s day and make them feel included and received in the Love of Christ.  When we remember to put our welcome statements into practice we find ourselves living into being the Community of God’s people we are striving to be and the light of Christ is born among us.  Showing up for each other and receiving each other like Christ is no small thing.  Keep up the good work church!

Peace to you all as we welcome the Christ-child this season,