All Are Welcome

Through Easter-tide we will have guest bloggers, our Worship Assistants, who are working with different themes around the idea of “A Place to Call Home.”  Our first guest is Joanne Walker, a member of our Lutheran congregation, Community Compassion Fund intake volunteer, Traditional Service Worship Assistant, and all around wonderful lady.  Joanne has a varied and unique perspective.  Read on to learn her thoughts and feelings on the theme “All Are Welcome.” 
Some thirty years ago in a new member class at Dove of Peace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Arizona, Pastor Adolph was explaining to would-be members the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Prior to that time, I doubted that I had been given any—I didn’t speak in tongues; I couldn’t heal the sick; I could teach, but I did not consider myself a gifted teacher, and I certainly could not prophesy.  That pretty much covered it—I had been left out when the Holy Spirit was distributing gifts. But then , Pastor mentioned “hospitality” in his list. Hospitality!  Was that a gift of the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps I had not been left out after all.  Folks frequently commented on my hospitality.  I love having company (except for the house-cleaning part) whether for a drop-in visit, for club and committee meetings, for meals, or as house guests. I find it far more comfortable being the hostess than the guest. My children always knew their friends were welcome in our home. As recently as Christmas Eve 1996, my grown daughter was certain I would say yes when she called to ask if I could put another bowl on the table for our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder because “This guy from work showed up at my front door and he’s alone for Christmas Eve.”
She married him in June of 1998. They are no longer married, but when I invited her for Easter dinner this year,  she asked if she could bring a teacher from Germany who was staying at her house while chaperoning a group of German high school exchange students who were staying with McMinnville families for two weeks. I was especially glad because work issues interfered with my son joining us and preparing Easter dinner for only three just didn’t seem right. I called her back to ask if Burghart Gebauer, the retired, disabled  German, McMinnville High school German teacher would also like to join us.  “I don’t know—I’ll ask him,” Kristin said. He said yes, and Easter Sunday morning as we were setting up for the Easter brunch, I asked Alice Howell if she had plans for dinner, because if she didn’t, I would be pleased if she would join us.  Preparing dinner for six was much more fun than for only three.
All of the guests seemed to enjoy the meal despite the fact that the asparagus was overcooked and the roasted sweet potatoes “crisp.” Considering my German  guests, I considered the Dietrich Bonhoeffer table prayer appropriate, and with such a diverse group, the conversation was lively.
Making all people feel welcome at my church home is also a personal priority, and, I believe, a priority of most of the folks at the traditional service, but I wonder if I (we) are  always successful. When traveling, I have attended churches where no one greeted me or spoke to me, and  I vowed to never make the mistake of returning to that church.  On the other had, I have visited churches that made me think that it might be nice to live in that community just so I could attend that church—e.g. Bethany  Lutheran in Gold Beach, Gloria Dei Lutheran in Coos Bay, and United Methodist in Myrtle Creek ,which incidentally, is the church where in 1951, at th age of eleven, I was confirmed the first time.  (There was no Lutheran church in Myrtle Creek.)
I try to make a point of introducing myself to visitors, inviting them to the coffee hour, and telling them I hope they will return.  I even tell them that we have a second service, “the Celebration Service,” at eleven in the event  (strange as it may seem) they prefer a less formal worship style.
On Monday mornings, I cheerfully (most of the time) greet applicants for Compassion Fund help and members of the “Every-Day Congregation” as they make their ritual treks into the church for coffee and goodies, to use the facilities, to check their mail, to get warm, or escape the rain.  Yesterday, a young man, who appeared to be fighting back tears, asked me if I would pray for him with no explanation of who he was or what specific prayer requests he had.  He offered his hand; I took it, and I prayed. Later a member of the every-day congregation applied for funds to pay for the reinstatement of her driver’s license, and she asked me if she could list me as a reference. I told her she could.
I believe these people feel welcome—they greet Pastor Kathy, Ty, Cindy, Amber,  Ron, and me with smiles.  I believe the applicants for assistance are grateful when we can help them.  But rarely do I see any of them at worship on Sunday morning.  If one of them is in the building, it’s to use the facilities. I’d like to think they attend the Celebration Service, and maybe one or two do meander in there, but not most of them. Once in a while one will come up to the fellowship hall before the service is over to get something to eat from or a hot cup of coffee, but they do not joint the worshipers. Why? Where am I failing?  What should I be doing to make them feel welcome at worship? What can I do to make them want to seek the reassurance that God loves them, to offer their praise and thanksgiving.  How can I make each of them know that they are a child of God, my brother or sister, and I would like to share my worship experience?  How do I make them know that ALL are welcome here in this house of God, this church home?

Scripture:  John 20:19-22

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 

20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 

22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 

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