Welcome! (Welcome Mat Series 1)
Updated: May 23, 2019
by Tim Haworth
“Welcome to God’s church!” “Welcoming You Home”. “You are welcome here!” “All are welcome at God’s table.”
If you haven’t figured it out, First Presbyterian Church wants people to know that they are welcome here. We are a welcoming church. We say it every chance we get. But what is it that makes us welcoming when others might be considered unwelcoming?
The first time I set foot in this church I was by myself. I came in those big red doors, received my greeting and bulletin and sat down towards the back of the sanctuary. After the service I shook the pastor’s hand and headed back out the red doors.
No one said a word to me.
The next Saturday I was at Springfield Pride and checking out the various booths and came upon First Presbyterian’s table. We started chatting and I mentioned that I was looking for a church home in Springfield. They invited me to give this church a try. I told them that I had been at the church the previous Sunday and no one spoke to me. They were apoplectic! They strongly encouraged me to give it another try. I told them I would. I knew when I went back I would have a target on my back. I was ok with that, though, because I did enjoy the service and those people at Pride were pretty nice.
I was right about the target thing. My next visit I was treated like visiting royalty. It felt like 3/4ths of the church had introduced themselves and shook my hand. It was the complete opposite of my first visit. But this time I was made to feel welcome. I was hooked. I became a part of this congregation and never looked back.
George McClellan and Jeremy Stringer wrote in The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration, “The concept of welcoming the stranger means intentionally building into the interaction those factors that make others feel that they belong, that they matter and that you want to get to know them.”
I really like that concept because it checks all the boxes. For me, as one who lives in the margins, to feel welcomed I have to know that I am accepted, I am affirmed and that, should I choose, I will be allowed to fully assimilate into the group.
To be a truly welcoming church you have to go beyond a smile, a handshake and a bulletin. A welcoming church is one that says, “We accept you just as you are and we hope that you will consider becoming part of us and joining us in this great adventure.”
May we choose to be that church.