My parish had a special visitor yesterday—it was our turn to host the bishop. I met Bishop Cate at my confirmation in May, a memorable night involving tornado warnings, my first hallway Eucharist, Thai food, and a long and somewhat harrowing commute in the rector’s Ford. Though we’re not exactly acquainted, there’s much to like about Bishop Cate, and she’s definitely one of those people who has a “presence” in a space. Also, she grew up in Michigan, which I hear turns out a lot of cool people *cough*.
We prepared for Bishop Cate—we put the date of her coming on the calendar, arrived 15 minutes early to choir practice to ensure we would not be rushed. She and all three of our priests were vested and in the chancel—we had a long procession, and the acolytes had to sit back by the organist. I think the nave was fuller than usual. After church, we had a short Q&A in the parish hall. It was not a big-deal, major-happening sort of day, but it stood out.
During Advent we get ready for Christ. As we retell the story of the events leading up to his birth, we relive and re-inhabit that place and prepare ourselves for the joy that comes with his coming. At the same time, we prepare for his coming again, we keep awake (“Constant vigilance!” to quote a beloved wizard). And we prepare for another year of inviting Christ into all the broken places in ourselves and the world. We do the laundry, sweep the floors, set the table, get out our special outfits, plan our music, decorate. We’re expecting a guest, and behold he is coming soon.
Unlike bishops and the baby Jesus, however, guests don’t come just once a year. Guests grace our pews, chairs, and benches in every season.
Now, of course we aren’t going to welcome these new guests the same way that we welcome the bishop—the roles and scenarios are all different. But I wonder if we could welcome guests in the same spirit. Could we be always prepared to be hospitable and warm? Always anticipating arrival? Could we give guests the seat of honor?—not a spot in the chancel (or a cathedra), but a place in our inner circle.
It takes a lot of courage to visit a church alone, and attending church alone can be one of the most stark, lonely experiences there is. Reach out.
Most church visitors come because they’re invited.
Why don’t we invite people? Are we afraid? Ashamed? It’s an uncomfortable thought. Now, there are some people who just aren’t ready to be invited, and relationships and understanding have to come first, but maybe this is a chance worth taking. What could happen?
And what about when the guests have come? Information packets and cookies and coffee mugs are nice, but more important than the collectibles and take-aways are the people who live hospitality. You can probably think of a few. There’s an empty-nest couple at my church who took me and a few other young adults under their wing, opening their home and table to us. I still remember the first person to engage me in conversation when I visited—and I see him do it tirelessly still. I’m pleased to see the clergy seek out and engage visitors. I try to do my part.
I try to be ready. To make ready.
I shined and polished at the church work day to help make the building ready. I go to choir practice to help make the service ready. And I prepare myself, so I will be ready to welcome—for when we welcome a guest are we not, in a way, welcoming Christ? A small Christmas comes weekly to our parishes.
What do you/your church do to make ready for guests? When you’ve been a guest, what did the people of the church you visited do to make you feel welcome?