How many churches do we drive past that proclaim “Everyone welcome”—when actually they aren’t? When I was growing up in a small town Protestant church, I think everyone there would have echoed the sentiment of universal welcome. However, anyone new appearing in the pews got the look of “why are you here?” This happened especially if they weren’t in their Sunday best. Perhaps someone would have talked to them after worship, found out who they are and why they were there that day. Maybe an invitation to coffee and donuts was given, or to return next week, but there was an excuse if they never returned. If people come and don’t become like us, it’s easy to assume they aren’t getting the message or aren’t holy enough. After a first embrace, it’s assumed they’ll pick up our lead and blend in. If not, we’ll let them drift away, telling ourselves we did enough.
As Precious Blood people, we use the word “inclusion” a lot, and proclaim it as a key principle. We do a lot to reach out to those who are far off and try to bring them near. How deep does our welcome go, how much are we willing to let ourselves be changed by those who make us feel uncomfortable? Do we let ourselves get close and be touched by God’s grace living in all and open ourselves to be converted by it? Do we give up on people we don’t think we can affect? Do we give up on people we don’t want to deal with?
It’s tempting to let the stranger in, show them a place by the fire, give them a bite to eat, and then ignore them. It’s tempting to sponsor someone from a distance, giving them a place we don’t plan to spend time in ourselves. It’s tempting to join in the condemnation of the judgmental, forgetting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s goal of converting the racist, the bigot. True hospitality is making room for people we feel uncomfortable with, people we’re at odds with, and doing more than letting them occupy space. As Precious Blood people, we called to speak the Truth from a close, common, family relationship. We all bear Christ’s Blood, we are bound to all, and seek charity for all, regardless. We do this after having been brought near by Christ, and speaking the Truth is another means to drawing closer, not pushing away.
This is as huge a challenge for me personally, as it is for anyone else. However, the call to discipleship is a huge challenge for all of us, and one we can embrace only with Christ’s help.
Originally appeared in The New Wine Press, May 2014