This past Sunday my wife and I had an excellent experience visiting a small United Methodist Church in Valier, Montana. They did a wonderful job making us feel welcomed. As we drove away in our motor home (after a church member guided us on a tour of their city, including the lake), my wife and I agreed that if we lived in this community we would want to attend this church. My guess is that all of our churches work hard on extending strong hospitality on Sunday mornings. I’m wondering, though, how we do on the other days of the week?
This last Saturday we used the parking lot of a very large church in Canada as a stopping point while we ate our lunch. We saw this church when we traveled up to Alaska in May, and we recognized it right away when we saw it again. Above every door in large letters it says “Welcome”. My only experience with this church happened on this Saturday. The church looked closed other than a car parked in front of the main doors. A man came out who locked the door behind him. I don’t know if this was the pastor, a staff person, or a lay person. I do know that the man had a key to the church.
When the man came outside, I was standing in front of our motor home. He stared at me for several moments. I was curious about the church, and was interested in seeing inside of it. I started walking towards the man, at which time he jumped into his car and drove away. Without any problem, I can think of all kinds of reasons that he needed to hurry and leave. Knowing this, though, doesn’t negate the fact that he missed meeting someone who was already in the parking lot of his church.
My wife and I were not the only ones in the parking lot. There was a couple with a truck and 5th wheel practicing parking it. It seems likely to me that they were local and just bought the 5th wheel. There was also a parked car that turned out to belong to a man that was bicycling. We were all in the church parking lot within the same one hour time. The man with the key didn’t talk to any of us.
How many of us have a key to our church building? Sometimes we are the ones jumping into our cars and leaving without talking to anyone. We have many understandable reasons why we are in a hurry. This, though, doesn’t change the fact that there are times that people come close to the church building, and they are ignored. Some of the most important church hospitality happens on days other than Sunday!
It is critically important for us to connect with people in our community. Sometimes they make it easy on us by coming to our church campuses for reasons other than worship services. Are we seeing these people? When we see them, are we making the time to establish a relationship with them? Rarely will the opportunities arise at a convenient time. God might give us many chances to touch the lives of the same people. In some cases, though, there will only be one chance. Are we ready to extend hospitality when this chance happens?
Your brother in Christ, Mark
By the way, if you are wondering when I will be back in Arizona, the answer is soon! I will be off of my leave, and back in the South District, on Monday.