Anticipatory Welcome

Regular readers, if there are any, will note an occasional reference to a friend who is writing a commentary on a portion of Luke. I’m a little vague about what I say about that since his daily drafts are intended to end up as an edited whole ready for publication one of these days. But I’m going to borrow one of his sentences from this morning’s draft because it speaks directly to a couple of previous posts about radical welcome.

“At the root of anticipatory welcome is confidence in God’s gratuitous generosity.”

Anticipatory welcome is the feeling, or at least hope, that I will be warmly welcomed by the people I am about to meet, perhaps for the first time, in the place I am about to enter, perhaps for the first time. Anticipatory welcome is hard to come by. The more likely expectation is of anticipatory rejection. “I don’t really know this place; I don’t really know these people; I know I was invited but I don’t know the local rules of the place, it’s culture, it’s practices; What if they don’t like me?

Anticipatory welcome, as least in terms of the radical welcome I believe is the primary tool of evangelism, is all about confidence in God’s gratuitous love. But that confidence has to come from somewhere. Congregations and individual Christians need to be bold in talking about that gratuitous love when the opportunity arises, and develop habits of being that reflect it in some way, so that when that hopeful, but skeptical, person finally decides to find out if it might be available to him or her, she or he will find an abundance of it during worship and fellowship. But let’s be clear about it, an abundance of God’s gratuitous love as expressed by you, me, or our congregations is not the same thing as fawning, smothering, and obviously phony welcome that many of us have experieinced. It is the genuine willingness to touched by the stranger who is a sinner as by our brother or sister. There’s more, but I’d like to hear your take on it.

8 thoughts on “Anticipatory Welcome”

  1. I think the fawning, smothering, insincere welcome that is received by a stranger is a distant place holder to the fact that most strangers are just simply ignored.Some readers may internally reply, as they don\’t always post, that I must be kidding – but in general, I think it is more likely that a stranger will be ignored rather than \”smothered.\” For those of us who remember that AWFUL feeling of standing on the edges and being totally overlooked and ignored, there rises a true love of God and empathy for that stranger at the edge…..the welcome we give them is the welcome that a true welcomer gave us at some point in our journey or a true welcome that we vowed we would forever give to the stranger. We\’ll never be able to erase the anticipation of rejection that a stranger brings in the door but we can certainly erase that notion by truly greeting them as a child of God and a person truly worthy of God\’s/our welcome!

  2. I would agree with the good Sister, the stranger is more apt to be ignored rather than smothered (witness my recent visit to my mother's parish). Neither is preferable, but given the choice, I would be more apt to run away faster after being smothered than ignored.As I commented earlier, I stand out front and greet people as they come into church. If a visitor shows up, I will greet them with some variation of the following:\”Good morning. I am Rev. Ref. Have you ever been to an Episcopal church before?\” If the answer is, \”No,\” then I will walk them in, go over the ordo with them, and then ask if they would like to be seated next to a regular parishioner to help them through the BCP & Hymnal.If the answer is, \”Yes,\” then I will point them to the stack of ordos and turn them loose.In both cases, they are personally invited to coffee hour and my parishioners make a point of greeting them at the Peace and also inviting them to coffee hour — where they are definitively NOT ignored.In short, we are too small to ignore people. And I hope that the groundwork being laid in the Welcoming Department as we continue to grow will become part of the parish DNA well into the future.

  3. I hope this is getting some readership out there among struggling churches because there is a great deal of truth and practical wisdom in what each of you have said.CP

  4. Ah, Steve! There are still questions of control.Are we not able to be hospitable because we have control of our church? Do we not welcome strangers because we will have to orient them? What if they are not part of our kind? Are we not doing ourselves and the other a violence as we decide how to absorb them into our culture? All this is a far cry from the woman\’s forgiveness by Jesus! She was suffering from social rejection bt her society. If we do not count the cost will we not do her further violence? Gianni

  5. John,You are right. The question/problem of control is huge. We take ownership of the building and even of the congregation almost without thinking about it. And there are always self appointed gate keepers whose function we tacitly support. Jesus always extended radical welcome to those who dared to breach all those societal defenses. Something enabled them to anticipate the welcome they would receive regardless of the gauntlet they would have to run. How can we, as the body of Christ, develop habits that make us more a source of radical welcome and less a source of organized barriers? How can we, as the body of Christ, openly encourage the hope of anticipatory welcome and become agents of God\’s gratuitous love? I don\’t know the answers but I know they are difficult ones. they fly in the face of gated communities, corporate secrets, defenses against crime and abuse, selective admission to circles of friendship and clubs of all kinds, and so on.

  6. \”what if they are not of our kind\”This is where I think Christianity got off in the wrong direction. well one of the many places.Faith is the question. How strong is your faith that the Spirit, as promised, is indeed working among us? The gospels are full of stories of letting God do the work of separating, culling the wheat from the chaff. pulling the weeds, separating the goats from the sheep. As I recall we are to be servants not second guessing the Master. We DO have to be honest about what we believe, no fear of martyrdom and we are not to put that on others, martyrdom that is. The idea that there is one, lock step christianity ignores the differences in the Gospels, would any call a Gospel invalid because the story doesn\’t match their view? It is more than the words, it is the message. We need to ask, what is worship? are we so afraid of getting a tiddle wrong because what our neighbor does that we won\’t invite them? I think we need to ask \”to what purpose do we exist?\” and \”do we believe the promises given to us?\”

  7. I too live in a world radical insecurity. History promises only novelty. Some are called into curiosity. The rest only have the strength to survive, raise a family and seek an elusive security for themselves and their neighbors. They need to belong to a community of those with like history and interests. I envy them and they are gracious if I don\’t set out to disturb them. As Jesse Jackson said, \”don\’t rock the boat if you\’re in it!\”I have lived thru a utopian period in my life in the early fifties when we attempted with all due preparation to integrate a community church. We succeeded to having a group of African Americans join the church. Most members promptly left the church. At my age I can evaluate this with less self righteousness. I don\’t regret trying this. I would do it again if I had the courage! Yet I do not feel judgmental of those who left. They would have eventually left the neighborhood as t did the large orthodox Hebrew synagogue.In my more vulnerable years, it is not courage that drives me but curiosity and the effort to explore the dimensions of faith. Inwardly I seek security and safety. I seek a gaited community into witch I can cocoon. Whatever I attempted had unexpected consequences that were not all welcome. Kierkegaard is right there are no pure ethics that bring about God\’s kingdom. WE have our treasures in earthen vessels. I believe with Derrida and Jacques Ellul that only God can bring justice. I feel instructed by our scripture reading in Luke that we must attempt to work to accept the stranger with in our gates. Pun intended!If God has given us the gift of compassion and the remnants of zeal, praise be God for his grace, but compassion comes first. John Paolini

  8. John,I am so glad to have you join the conversation. You will note another Anonymous commentator from time to time, the notorious Dr. B, a retired classics professor who lives a couple of blocks from you.CP

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