Have You Ever Been the Stranger?

Have you ever felt overlooked, looked down upon, ignored, or had people distrust you because you were different? Have you ever felt invisible? I know I have.

Years ago when my husband and I were searching for a new church home, we walked into the lobby of a very large church and were immediately directed over to a huge metal rack. The rack was full of name badges, one for each member of the congregation, who upon arriving, picked their badge off the rack and pinned it on. We were instructed to fill one out for ourselves, which we did and we then spent the next 1 1/2 hours without being greeted by a single soul.

What was meant as an exercise in hospitality had become a dead tradition.

Name tags, though they can be helpful, do not produce hospitality, do not truly welcome the stranger, and do not build community.

People build community.

Do you know who make the best "greeters?" It's the people who were once strangers themselves, the ones who remember what it felt like to be invisible.

Have you ever wondered why homeless people, even after receiving assistance and offers of help, so often return to the streets? It's because the sense of belonging is so powerful. For many, it's the only place they've ever experienced acceptance.

It's been said that we think what we need most is safety. The homeless have something to teach us – what we need most is acceptance.

Hospitality is about acceptance.

THE LAST COURSE:

Hospitality in a church setting is a reflection of God's gracious welcome. Congregations that don't emphasize shared life will have a difficult task in reaching out to strangers. Sometimes, though, even churches who seem to be doing it right, fostering a sense of care and community among members, can lose sight of the strangers in their midst.

How would you rate the sense of welcome in your church family? It can be very healthy to visit other churches periodically to remind yourself what it's like to be "the stranger."

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2 Responses to “Have You Ever Been the Stranger?”

  1. You've opened two doors on this one. In the church setting, we must see ourselves through the visitor's eyes and not how we want to be treated, which is to be left alone and not asked to "volunteer" for something else. Secondly is the ongoing dilemma of our homeless family members, who may feel acceptance on Sunday morning but what happens on Sunday afternoon?

  2. CIndy Jones says:

    Susan: What a pleasure it was to spend time together. LIke kindred spirits , from our ancestral roots, to love of all things created, food, fellowship, writing, family, and even small groups. I particularly enjoyed this blog, because we have all been in this place of "stranger". Your writings of hospitality spoke to me deeply, having been shaped by "an open door" mentality from both my mother and grandmother. We always made extra for our table,  since 'You never knew who would arrive at your door". I have been blessed by that upbringing and have come to learn through that example , that there "are no strangers in this world. We always welcomed who ever arrived, and lingered, and offered a place at our table. I remember folks arriving that I never knew prior, sitting with us as family, and perhaps not seeing again. I like to leave an empty seat at our table, with the expectation of that knock on our door. I know too, feeling overwhelmed when we first arrived in North Carolina, knowing but one friend. I too recall the feeling of not being known and I do believe it is inherent to know and be known,. One of my quests is to aspire to make all those I do come in contact with,  feel edified, valued and cared for.I hope this new friendship is just the beginning of connection and understanding. Thank you for blessing us today with your presence. It truly made my day!

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