July 2017

To Welcome

 

What does “welcoming” mean? And how welcoming is a Church? According to a recent study by Benedictine University, a large percentage of people deem a welcoming community an essential criterion of a good church experience. Some, if they do not find the welcome they desire, go elsewhere, others don’t try again.

As a verb, “to welcome” means “to greet with pleasure and hospitality.” As an adjective, “welcome” means “gladly and courteously received; agreeable or gratifying.” By definition then, a welcoming church graciously receives a person in a kindly way. To welcome someone is an act of ‘charity’, it’s the basis of the historic churches hospitality, and mirrors the welcome that Jesus gave to all.

But how exactly should the Church welcome people? Some churches place “greeters” at the doors of churches to meet every entrant with a hearty, “Good morning.” Others have inserted their own command to welcome their pew-mates – “Please stand and greet those around you – at some stage in the service. The ‘passing of the peace’ is a liturgical form of this welcome.

Jesus’ life certainly provides insights into how his Body the Church can be welcoming. He urges people to come into his presence (“Come, follow me”; “Let the children come to me”). And he, more aggressively, invites himself into the lives of others (“Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today”). Jesus’ idea of welcome is not a banal greeting, but a genuine interpersonal exchange through which He initiates a relationship – and eventually, friendship – with the one called.

By extension, for the Church to be welcoming it must be active in inviting people into a personal relationship with Christ; this is the very purpose of her existence. And this relationship is more than just spiritual. It is sacramental, since the Church directly transmits God’s grace to men and women so that their relationship with Christ may be real, substantial, fruitful. It is even physical when an open invitation is given to all to receive Holy Communion. The Church can never be more gracious to her people than when she is giving them grace.

Imperfect as we are, we all fall short of the welcome that may be demanded at a given moment. But our failures point us to another truth about what “welcome” means: genuine welcome is not easy. It requires sacrifice from the “welcomer,” who, in imitation of Jesus, must give of him or herself so that the other may receive. Awareness of this reality should prompt forgiveness and a willingness to seek again for anyone who has not received the welcome that he or she deserved.

In Jesus name, we continue to be the welcoming voice and the accepting hand. Amen.

 

David
July 2017