When You See “All are Welcome”, Do You See it as a Statement or as a Question?

When You See “All are Welcome”, Do You See it as a Statement or as a Question?
(This is the third in a series of articles to help describe how we, as a congregation are trying to live out the Vision Statement that the congregation developed in 2008. This month we look at the third value, “Hospitality: The Connection to One Another.”)
Who on earth would ever put ―Bikers Welcome!‖ on a sign in front of our church. Surely it must be someone who has not experienced the non-stop roar that starts in May and contin-ues through each Saturday and Sunday in October. Bikers wel-come? Bikers welcome to find another highway or county road to ride is more like it. Not that our sign would actually increase the number of motorcyclist driving down Broadway, but do we really want to give the impression that we approve of them roar-ing by in groups of 10 or 20. Not to mention the real question of whether we really would want them to stop and join us. If our sign has enticed any bikers to stop is unknown, but there is always next Sunday.
Fellowship and/or Hospitality are words that we use a lot around the church. And for the most part when we use them we are referring to the fact that as our vision statement says, ―We believe that welcoming friendliness is one of the distinguishing trademarks of our congregation.” This ―welcoming friendli-ness‖ comes in many ways. It comes when we take the time to introduce ourselves to those new people who have been attending for some time but we have not, as of yet, taken the time to meet. It comes when we see that sitting down the aisle from us is obviously someone who is worshipping God with us at Christ Lutheran for the first time, so we make a point of greeting them and through our conversation with them letting them know that they are welcomed. ―Welcoming Friendliness‖ comes during our time of conversation and fellowship following our worship service. It comes when we take the time to be a greeter or fellowship host. ―Welcoming friendliness‖ is indeed something to be proud of, but it is also something that we cannot take for granted. We are only as ―welcoming,‖ as ―inviting,‖ as ―hospitable,‖ as we were last week. It is the responsibility of all of us who make up Christ Lutheran to make sure that we continue to be a place that offers that sense of welcome and hospitality.
But is there a limit to who we welcome and offer hospitality? On one of the summer worship signs we say ―Bikers Welcome,‖ but on the other sign we more boldly declare, ―All are Welcome!” And even if we can assume that we agree that ―All‖ truly means ―All‖, who decides what ―welcome‖ really means. Does ―Welcome‖ mean that they are welcome to attend church as long as they don’t change any-thing, or only if they look like us, act like us, believe like us? Does ―Welcome‖ mean that they are welcome to add their voice and perhaps differing perspective to our Bible studies, congregational meetings, and discussions that get at the heart of who we are and what we are about? Does ―welcome‖ mean that if demographics showed that it was needed we would be willing to open up the downstairs of the church for a homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Do words like hospitality and welcome apply only to us waiting and responding to those who enter into our space, or could our actions out in the world, in our homes, schools, workplace, and community actually be a reflection of our understanding of hospitality and welcome? What would it look like to be a person or a family who lives out a deeper understanding of hospitality outside the church?
In truth, words like welcome, fellowship and hospitality are like onions, the more you dig into them, the more you peel away, not only do they get stronger, but there is also a greater chance that you will get that smell on you. And once you get the smell of hospitality and welcome on you it’s pretty hard to get it off. But if you read the Bible and listen to the teachings of Jesus and the stories of the early church it is pretty hard to not see that what we are to be is a bunch of people who just reek of hospitality and welcome. It should come out of our pores. So now we ask, when you see “ALL ARE WELCOME”, do you see it as a statement or as a question?

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