All are welcome!
In the chorus of Stf 409, Marty Haugen invites Christian believers to sing with confidence: ‘All are welcome in this place!’ I personally love singing and connecting with this hymn. It invites me to reflect actively, on the kind of welcome I offer to all in the name of Christ. Above all, it reminds me that our risen Lord welcomes us all into his embrace with cheerful warmth and gentle care.
It further inspires me to act on the message I hear and sing in real terms. When I sing, the thought of inviting all ‘in this place’ constrains me as well. How do I purposefully welcome, unless I am equally willing to invite? I am therefore challenged to invite people. In this way, I connect welcome with invitation to do mission.
I am aware that ‘All are welcome in this place’ may be practiced anywhere by Christians. In this letter, however, I refer to ‘in this place’ as our place of worship. On a Sunday, for example, our door stewards do a wonderful job, welcoming people ‘in this place’. Should welcoming be solely the responsibility of door stewards? No. I don’t think it should. Should the whole church then be involved in welcoming one another? Yes, I believe that, and I recommend it. Should Preachers be involved in ‘All are welcome’? Yes, certainly. The local church welcomes the visiting preacher so that the preacher is no longer a guest but a welcomed host. In the Spirit, the Preacher then becomes a ‘door steward’ and a ‘host-preacher’.
Should welcoming continue during and after the service? Yes, it should. During the service we watch out for those who are not at ease with our traditions. We attend to those who are experiencing hearing and vision difficulties. When to sit or when to stand, finding Bible texts and hymn numbers and the language of worship – can all be a bit challenging for visitors. To help in such circumstances is part of our welcome. How then should we, the whole church, be involved in this? This is a matter for the whole church to discuss. Sometimes, all that visitors need is some attention. After all, don’t we all want to be no-ticed and loved? Of course, we do.
After the worship, sometimes, first time or regular visitors may stay around a bit longer for coffee fellowship. Again, the welcome continues through chats and smiles and sharing in order to connect with visitors. Who should do this? The preacher, the door stewards? Yes, certainly. Should the whole church be involved as well, yes! but not altogether, otherwise the visitors may be overwhelmed by kindness.
What then should happen in the week following? The welcome continues. How? We may follow up with a call, a welcome or thank you card or a visit where this is necessary. The preacher or speaker may also give a follow up as visitors may wish to hear more from the sermon, teaching or hymns.
‘All are welcome in this place’ is a love responsibility of the whole church. Whether you were welcomed or not when you first joined your church, it is rather fulfilling that we all join in welcoming one another in the name of Christ ‘in this place’! Marcus