Yesterday, as I drove to work, I thought about a first time guest I met at church on Sunday. At one point, he thanked all of us for making him feel so at home.
First time guests always take me back to the time when I was searching for a church in North Carolina many years ago. I was recently divorced and had just relocated 2400 miles away from my family and friends to start a new job. Besides the realtor who helped me find a house that would rent to a single lady with two big dogs, I knew no one in my new hometown…no one.
My first attempt at finding a church didn’t go so well. Other than a “hello” from the man who handed me a bulletin at the door, no one else acknowledged me, introduced themselves or shook my hand. On top of that, a Bible seemed to be completely unnecessary. Never once did the pastor read any verses of scripture during his message. I walked out of the building and knew I would never return.
My second attempt at finding a church almost didn’t happen the next Sunday. As I sat on my back porch that morning sipping my coffee and having my quiet time, I shared with God that I knew I needed to find a church to get plugged into but I thought I would just skip this week. I was tired from the move and from all the transitions with my divorce and my new job. I also did not want a repeat of what had happened the past Sunday. Emotionally, I just wasn’t up for it. I didn’t want to feel invisible again.
Yet, even though I didn’t want to try again…something inside me told me that I needed to get out the phone book. Remember those books? 😉
As I flipped to the “Church” section, I told myself I would just look to see if any ads had church service times listed. There was one in the Non-Denominational section that caught my eye but the church time was not listed. I’ll just call them, I thought. It’s only 7:00am…but maybe their answering machine will list the service schedule. I picked up my phone and dialed. To my surprise, a lady answered.
Her voice was pleasant. I told her I was wondering what time the service started because I was thinking of coming. I then asked her a kind of weird question…”Do you all use your Bibles? I mean, does the pastor refer to verses of Scripture?” Yes, she assured me. Great, I told her. She then went on to say something that convinced me that I would be walking through the doors of this particular church later that same morning. “My name is Mary-Lynn and I play keyboards on the stage…come say “hi” when you get here!”
When I stepped through the front door a couple of hours later, I didn’t have one person shake my hand. No, I had five or six hand shakes and countless cheerful hellos. When I took my seat and the service began, I held back tears. I’m home, Lord. I’m home.
And even as I wrote that last sentence, tears were in my eyes again.
“I feel so accepted and so at home here.” That’s the feeling I pray everyone will feel when they walk through the door of a church. I have tasted the beauty of coming home and I want others to taste it too!
Can I share a crazy secret I have? I envision churches that don’t need “organized” greeter teams because everyone just naturally feels a strong desire to reach out and say hi to the folks that walk through the front door and the stranger sitting in the chair next to them. You don’t need an official greeter badge to do that. All you really need is a willingness to spread and share the beauty of home.
You’re home here. You matter here. You can be yourself here.