There has been a convergence around the theme of welcome and hospitality from the many communities of my life, so I have spent a lot of time thinking about these practices over the last few weeks. The monastic tradition of St. Benedict has gospel hospitality and welcome at it's center. First Trinity strives to be a welcoming community for all who walk through the doors on Sunday mornings, or Thursday nights, or that ring the bell at any time, any day of the week. 501 Church welcomes young adults into Journey Groups, service projects, and new ways and thinking about worship and "being church". In our home, Jonathan and I have welcomed a new housemate who is with us temporarily while she looks for a job. Each of these examples of welcome and hospitality comes with a sense of richness, joy and deeper sense of knowing and being known by those to whom hospitality is extended and by God.
There is another side to welcome, too; well, perhaps, almost certainly, more than one other side to 'welcome'. But, there is the side of being turned down, turned away in your moment of need. I spent a lot of time this last week feeling unwelcome as I looked for a place for 501 Church to meet on a Sunday evening at 5:01pm. For many reasons, a space outside of a church building was not working out...in a very real way, 501 Church felt the 'other' side of welcome. We simply wanted "space" - not even the opportunity to evangelize or convert anyone who walked by...yet, space was not open to us. In the book The Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts this is referred to as spiritual resistance to a new church beginning.
And, truth be told, I have turned down other churches, music groups, or the random non-profit that have called asking for space for many reasons: some good, others not as good. So, in a way, I understand. And, I'm not demoninzing or condemning to hell, or trying to be self-righteous over and against any of those that turned me down for requesting space.
The point is, I believe, that welcome is a spiritual practice that is center to our lives as spiritual beings. It is in welcoming another that we are known, and know others. To welcome another - an individual or group - is to welcome the God who shows up in the most unexpected of places and people. We are but smudged reflections of the God who welcomes everyone, anywhere, anytime and invites us to take a risk and do the same.