“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).
In addition to being the 4th weekend of Advent, this Sunday is Christmas Eve and this Monday is Christmas Day which means lots and lots of visitors! Churches around the world, including here at St. John’s, will welcome more visitors over these two days than any other weekend of the entire year. The large influx of visitors at Christmas challenges us to have on our “A-game” when it comes to hospitality! For many, this weekend might be the only time during the entire year that they come to church which means that this is our only opportunity to welcome them (or not!). We have a big job to do and it’s up to ALL of us!
Just this past week, Pastor Adam shared with me a blog post written by an ELCA pastor about her recent experience in visiting another ELCA congregation. Her experience serves as a helpful reminder to all of us.
“This morning I was reminded of the importance of ushers as I visited a local ELCA congregation for worship with my two-month-old daughter. It’s a lesson that I will be taking with me to my parish when I return from maternity leave and one I wanted to briefly share with you to consider too. I’m a first-time parent and I didn’t realize how much of a struggle it is to get ready on a Sunday morning and to get to worship on time. We finally made it this morning just in the nick of time for worship but arrived to usher-less doors and sanctuary. As I walked around the back seats searching for a seat in the sanctuary while dragging along my infant in her car seat carrier, there was no one to direct me and when I asked people if I could sit in the empty seats near them, I was informed that they were saving them. As a church insider I know that, yes, this Sunday happened to be the kids’ Christmas program and, yes, it made sense that the church was full. However, as a new parent, I was so excited to finally make it to worship (and on time!) and devastated that I couldn’t find a seat for me and my child. Finally I gave up and walked out of the church building. This morning truly felt like ‘there was no place in the inn’ for my family. If I wasn’t already familiar with the church and its pastor, I don’t know if I would have the courage to go back. What if I had been a first-time parent seeking a new church home? Other than my sadness at feeling rejected this morning, the lesson I take for me and for many of our congregations is that the hospitality of our ushers matters. Having someone direct me to a seat or offering to bring in a chair for me and my infant would have made a huge difference in my morning and my opinion of the congregation. I hope this Christmas Eve all of our congregations can offer thoughtful hospitality (and helpful seating direction) to our guests whether they be long-time members or newcomers seeking Christ.”
As this pastor so rightly states, the hospitality of our ushers and greeters and worship leaders truly matters, but so does the hospitality each of us offers to those who are seated around us or who we meet in the parking lot or who we pass in the hallway. As we gather for Christmas worship these coming days, let’s all be extra attentive to welcoming those guests and visitors in our midst. Help them find a seat. Make sure you speak to them and tell them how glad you are to see them. Point them to the bathrooms. In doing so, we’re doing more than simply being welcoming to them. We are sharing with them the Christ-child and, for some, they may never have experienced him before.
Becoming in Christ +