September 2007
Christian Hospitality

Come Be Our Honored Guests

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

What would happen if we treated newcomers as Sunday morning guests, rather than as visitors? Like many, I work hard to make my home a welcoming place for guests. Dinner parties often last for hours. Guests are anticipated weeks in advance. I often invite varied age groups, people who know each other and people who don’t. Entertainment for all age groups is arranged, including intergenerational activities. Fresh flowers are set in prominent locations and an ironed table cloth graces the dinner table. Guests are encouraged to bring music to share. What is most important to me is that we spend time building relationships in the space I call home.

What would our congregations be like if we welcomed visitors as honored guests attending the most sumptuous banquet ever prepared? The feast would take place in a space that provided a comfortable seat for everyone. What if our guests felt they were cherished members of the Body of Christ?

Is your congregation a place where guests are warmly welcomed regardless of their age, gender, ethnic identity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status? Stop. Think before you say, “Sure!” Do you and other parishioners make a concerted effort to not only welcome, but to incorporate others into your church home?

Blessed by new memories
You may want to ask your Sunday morning guests to share the traditions of their culture with you. The important thing is that you are open to learning about “the other,” i.e., someone who is different from you. It is not easy! Being open to one who listens to a style of music which may be unfamiliar is challenging — not necessarily because you don’t like it — but because your sacred memories (worship experiences, baptisms, weddings, confirmations, etc.) are attached to a certain style. It is wonderful to hold on to these reminiscences, but perhaps God is allowing you to be blessed by new sounds which will have new memories associated with them.

Welcoming guests into the congregation that God has entrusted to us requires action. Think about the things I mentioned in preparing my home, such as planning in advance and knowing what would make guests feel comfortable. Think about what would make you feel included, should you be entering your church for the first time. Consider whether worship times and the church entrance are clearly indicated. A warm smile from a greeter, an escort to a seat, and a userfriendly service leaflet are always winners.

Is there a place for children? If so, the guest should be informed of the option. Again, escort the guest to the children’s program, rather than just pointing the way. What about seating for persons living with a disability? If your congregation does not have a specifically allocated area for guests using a wheelchair, ask what would make them most comfortable. Don’t make assumptions, including whether or not they would like communion brought to them. What is most important to remember is that we must make the effort to receive these guests and invite them all to be incorporated members of our congregation. The banquet table is set for all God’s children. I invite you to participate in making space for everyone.

The Director of Learning and Leadership for the Episcopal Church Foundation, Toni Daniels has served on the vestry at St. Luke’s in Ewing, New Jersey, and as chair at the Parish Council of St. Bart’s in New York City.

This article is part of the September 2007 Vestry Papers issue on Christian Hospitality