This past week, I was guest in a couple of different circumstances.
In the first, I was hosted by the coordinator of a conference at which I was speaking.
In the second, I visited a long-time friend in a new ministry setting.
In both, I was welcomed into their homes, into their lives, with a warm "Make yourself at home!" And in both cases, this was a genuine expression of hospitality. Wherever I was, it was home.
It's not always the case, though: in some places where we hear we are welcomed, it comes with provisos... make yourself at home, but... don't walk around without slippers on; don't put the kettle on yourself (instead ask for tea); don't sit on the porch with a novel; &c.
There are hesitations on both parts; one hears of stories where guests leave messes, or insult the hospitality offered, or overstay a welcome; one hears stories where guests don't know what expectations are, or are ignored in the mix of host family life, or feel that they are a burden.
Hospitality: it's a gift, it's a ministry, it's a practice.
And its something we as church need to be intentional about.
When someone comes into our community, they have already made the choice to walk into our spiritual home, with the hope that they will receive a genuine welcome.
And once a guest arrives, we - the church - are the hosts. It is up to us to ensure that they know that they are wanted and welcomed, even if they don't know exactly what our traditions are. It is up to us to make sure they have a place, both in pew and in community, no matter how long they will be with us. It is up to us to ensure that these guests feel that they are indeed guests: that their presence is desired, that we hope that they feel that they belong, and that we don't expect too much form them (especially when they are new!).
It can be tempting to be too keen or too cool to newcomers... our extremes can ask someone to sign up for 5 committees in their first 5 minutes, or can suggest that 5 years is still too short a time for them to be trusted as 'one of us'.
It is up to us to be the church that welcomes, that invites, that engages.
It's up to us to be the church for all followers of Christ.
It is up to us to be the church that offers a genuine "Make yourself at home!" to all of our guests.