While in San Diego, I checked out a few church websites in Pacific Beach. I knew that Craig wanted me to go with him to the Catholic Church but I was tempted to go to a place where I, too, could be welcomed at the table. When the investigation was over, I discerned that worshipping with my husband was more important last Sunday than being in a Protestant church, and I gladly obliged.
We arrived at the church ten minutes before the start of Mass. We made our way to the restrooms, passing a few people along the way. We then returned and entered the sanctuary where we took a seat in a pew about halfway back from the pulpit. We were greeted by no one during the journey to the restroom or the sanctuary. Not one person spoke to us. No one said "Good morning." No one said, "Welcome to our church." No one said, "hello." We entered as strangers who were hungry for hospitality and left as strangers who were hungry for a different worship experience. And, I'm still reflecting on the priest's central message of the sermon. He said over and over again, "Actions speak louder than words."
Indeed they do!
I visited a church where no one seemed ready to welcome a new person. I visited a church where no one seemed prepared to offer information or assistance. I visited a church where I was eager to find the presence of Christ in people since I would not experience this presence at the table, and I left with a void. Sure, I loved singing the hymns and I thoroughly enjoyed holding my husband's hand during the homily. But, I expected so much more.
Why is it that our churches cannot get the basics right?
From church, Craig and I traveled to Vons Grocery Store where we picked up a few things. When we walked in the door, two employees immediately greeted us. When we were looking for the perfect bottle of wine to give as a gift, the person in charge of the wine section immediately greeted us, asking how he could help. When we were still in the aisle five minutes later, he asked again, "Are you sure I cannot help you with your selection." As we left the checkout, the cashier called us by name, getting the information from our Safeway Shopping Card. I was not in my ordinary grocery store. I was a first-time visitor in this store. Yet, everyone made me feel more than at home.
What if we were to take a few cues from the local Vons and always have someone standing at the doors of our churches on Sunday morning, eager to say, "Good morning" and "Welcome?" What if we were to take note of the names of people who have signed the pew pad and are sitting next to us so that we can call them by name as we leave? What if we were always looking for a visitor, never taking a first-time visitor for granted? What if we were always prepared to offer radical hospitality to whoever walked in our doors?
Our sign out front says, "All are welcome. Come as you are." But our actions speak so much louder than our words.
I know we do not always get it right. But I hope and pray that no one ever gets out of the doors of Mount Vernon Place without being warmly welcomed.
Our actions speak louder than our words.