The Language of Welcome

By Pastor Annemarie

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . .” Matthew 25:35

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:5-7

Welcome! Bienvenidos! Karibuni!

All around the world, how important it is to say, “Welcome!” It’s in that handful of words we need to learn when first arriving in a new place, along with “our Ps and Qs” of please, thank you, and hello.

In the two short weeks I’ve been here, it’s clear to me that Esperanza Lutheran Church is fluent in the language of welcome! Your cards, emails, thoughtful gifts, and photographs of your smiling faces have made me smile, and your enthusiastic presence at the Service of Installation and Drive-Thru Reception last Saturday have made me feel a part of the community. Thank you! Thank you for making sure that your desire to welcome me would be made known through your actions—and in such delightful and creative ways!

It’s also clear to me that you know how important it is to be a welcoming place, a welcoming people, not just to your new pastor but to the whole community. I see your desire reach out to others with the hope that is in Christ. I’m excited to find out together the ways in which God is calling us to extend that welcome to friend and stranger alike. What will that look like, I wonder?

Like you, I suspect, I’ve experienced times and places in my life where I felt I was welcome but also, unfortunately, the ones where I felt decidedly unwelcome. I think most of us have experienced the pleasure of the one and the pain of the other. We know from personal experience how important a warm welcome is in forming a loving community: from initial kind words and actions, to the deeper, ongoing actions of welcome that form lasting bonds of friendship, loving care, and mutual respect.

So, how do we welcome people, friend and stranger alike?

To begin to answer that, we can think about what it feels like to be on the receiving end: What is it like when you feel welcome? What are some of those situations, thoughts, and feelings?

  • Someone is glad you’ve shown up. They’re happy to see you!
  • A place is prepared for you. A favored place to sit is ready for you; there’s a place at the table.
  • New people are introduced to you; your circle is expanded.
  • After the initial words of welcome are long past, people continue to gather you in. You are listened to; people are interested in what you think and feel; they ask about your experiences and stories.
  • You are included in conversations. Unfamiliar things are explained; your opinion is asked.
  • People say they want to see you again. They want you to come back!
  • Other. . .

What would you add to this list? What do you experience when you feel welcome?

God calls us to welcome strangers (who won’t be strangers any longer, by the way) and also to welcome people already familiar to us. We welcome each other by continuing to make room for each other, listening to each other, continuing to be curious about each other’s experiences and stories and opinions, inviting each other to participate in new, refreshing ways. Stranger and friend, new and old. A “holy curiosity” about someone often brings delight as we appreciate the complex beauty of the good creation God made each of us to be.

As we go forward together, I know that God will work in us the Holy Spirit’s generosity of love and kindness as God extends a holy welcome to our community and beyond. Let’s find out together what that will look like, shall we?