May 22, 2018

It’s All About Welcome…

As a college student majoring in Music at Arizona State University I was a part of the Choral Union which presented Handel’s Messiah at Christmastime.

I sold tickets to people at my church, loaded everyone into the church’s bus and drove them to the auditorium through streets clogged with the cars of Christmas shoppers. By the time I unloaded my concertgoers at the main entrance and parked the bus at the far, far end of the parking lot, I was too late to join my fellow tenors as they marched onto the stage. So, I decided to enter through the lobby, make my way down a side aisle and climb onto the stage to take my place in the choir.

Of course, the box office lobby and the staircase to the main lobby were thronged with people, but I tried to move as tactfully as I could through the Christmas revelers. As I finally achieved the top step and took a shape right, I found my path obstructed by a large sign that read: THERE ARE NO RESERVED SEATS FOR THE MESSIAH.

I was stunned by the truth of it! There are no reserved seats for the Messiah. Foxes have holes, birds have their nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head. (Mt 8:20) If the Messiah is going to have a place in this world it is because we throw our coat over the seat next to ours and say, “Please, sit by me.” This is the core mission of the church: to make a place for the risen Christ, and for all the people he loves.

If we take seriously in the Episcopal Church that “All Are Welcome,” it behooves us to make this clear in our architecture as well as our hearts. Can a person with limited mobility easily enter the sanctuary, make their way to communion, join with everyone at the coffee hour and locate an accessible restroom nearby? Can a first-time visitor locate the church office without aimlessly wandering the campus? Can that new family with young children easily find the nursery? Do the buildings and grounds exude a warm and welcome visage or do they say, “I’ve largely been neglected” and you probably will be too?

A warm welcome takes many forms. Most visitors will experience their first welcome at your website, the second one as they drive by the church buildings, the third one in the parking lot and the fourth as they make their make their way to the Sanctuary or office and the fifth when they interact with a greeter at the door. As you see, the first four welcomes you extend have to do with either web architecture or your physical architecture. Have you made sure that every step of that journey says “All are Welcome” here? If not, maybe a capital campaign is in your future to address those architectural inadequacies.