The part of the sermon today at church that stuck with me, and may have been the bulk as my attention was grabbed for quite some time, was that we need to be careful about the artificial barriers we create that keep people from feeling welcome to church and our lives. Things as simple as clearly marked (and clean) bathrooms were cited and for good reason. I, for one, don’t feel very comfortable when I can’t find a bathroom when I need it. Nor do I feel very comfortable when said bathroom isn’t clean or is clean, but doesn’t look it.
If part of the sermon went the direction I am about to go, I did not hear it and I will admit to my mind wandering as it tends to do particularly under the rather soothing voice of the pastor.
I think my church has gotten much better at welcoming the strangers. It has been the extremely hard work of a few that I cannot count myself in to enact this shift and there will always be more ways to better care for others who are there for the first time. But I think that the basics are there, at the very least, and the few hard workers are slowly and unsteadily growing into many.
What I think hasn’t been discussed much, to my knowledge, is how to welcome people who have been here for ages. In the hierarchy of who to care for first on Sunday, the unfamiliar always take the number one slot. That is how it should be as those who have been here hopefully have many other opportunities throughout the week to be cared for. But I am haunted that in the hierarchy of who to care for, there is only ever one group.
Yesterday, I was in charge of a movie event that was motivated entirely out of a desire to arrange something for my friends to do on a day when many of them have nothing else to do (unless they really do like football a lot). When the only person who showed up and stayed was someone who I would not call a friend as such, I am sure that I was not very welcoming to him. My hierarchy of who to care for yesterday began and ended with my friends.
I wonder how many people in this morning’s services will wonder if the person sitting next to them who has been in that pew every Sunday for years was welcomed. I wonder if people will see that the artificial boundaries are not localized between the regulars and the visitors, but can exist between the person we call “me” and every other person in the room. I know that I have my artificial boundaries of trusted friend and not. I know that others have them as I have run head long into some of them. I think they are there. I wonder if anyone else does.