From the Bishop: Welcoming Neighbors
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –
On a recent (and somewhat rare) Sunday off, I decided to worship at my nearest-by neighborhood church. As it happens, there is a good-sized and healthy United Methodist church less than a block from my house, and so on the Sunday in question, I walked with some trepidation to pay a visit to their 10:00 Sunday morning worship service.
My visit to our cousins the United Methodists turned out to be altogether lovely. Though there were several predictable differences from Sunday AM worship in our Episcopal Church, the neighbors were a welcoming, kind and wonderfully prayerful Christian community.
That visit served as a reminder to me of what it feels like for a visitor or guest to walk into one of our Episcopal churches for the first time. Though we by and large experience our own parish churches as “welcoming” – and imagine that we are graceful and inclusive towards our visitors – that may not always be the whole truth. Really welcoming a newcomer or guest means not only having a smart system to recognize, greet, orient and connect with that person, but it also and especially means having an attitude towards a newcomer that looks for Christ’s presence in their person, and so anticipates being changed and enriched by one’s encounter with that guest. When we greet people we don’t know with the knowledge that they are created in God’s image and with the expectation that if we get to know them we’ll get to know Jesus better, there is a whole different prospect for the encounter, and an entirely different relationship with them becomes not only possible, but probable.
In these autumn months, most parish churches experience an uptick in attendance and energy as old-timers come back to church after summer sojourns away, and guests come around to see what the community is all about. I commend to you the work of creating a plan to connect with and welcome any guest that might come through the doors of the church for any reason. But even more, I hope you’ll try on a new and complimentary attitude towards such folks as well, expecting that when you greet them and work to get to know them, you will be faced with the exceptional blessing of welcoming, and being in deeper relationship with, the living Christ!
Faithfully Yours –
+ Bishop Barker