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."