“C OME ONE, COME ALL” is a phrase use to indicate that something is directed at or open to all people. It means everybody is invited. All are welcome. We might do well to stand on County Road 20 with a sign proclaiming such. We have biblical challenge to invite and welcome all.
Accept one another — just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
I was challenged last week regarding an article in our October newsletter. The article I wrote states that we want people to be safe as possible when they are on our property. Alienating words like “stranger” and “transient” were used in the article. The concern was how this contrasts with our invitation that “all are welcome.” “Come one, come all.”
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WE ARE CALLED to imitate the “table manners” of Jesus by being God’s hospitality in the world. The reality is, even on our best days, we don’t live up to that.
Popular magazines such as Southern Living assume hospitality has to do with delicious dinners and polite conversation in one’s own beautiful home. Hospitality is reduced to private entertainment extended to people more or less like ourselves. The highlights of our fellowship committee, which is all about hospitality, is eating and sharing and entertaining ourselves. That’s important, but that’s not the limit of biblical hospitality.
The church of Jesus Christ is fundamentally a hospitable community. We welcome all because Jesus welcomed all. When people enter our buildings, whether on Sunday or any other time, someone greets and welcomes them. No one is carded, frisked or sent through a metal detector. We simply welcome all.
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YET, WE ALSO LIVE with the reality of shootings like the ones at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, or Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Just yesterday there was a shooting at a wedding in New Hampshire. How do we balance hospitality, “come one, come all,” and safety?
Some say we should do nothing. Others say we’re foolish not to study the issue and take action. In response to these shootings and others, preparedness has become a theme in many churches, including ours. Our insurance company, which only insures churches, published materials on active shooter preparedness. The PCUSA has published materials on safety and security.
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WE LONG FOR A SIMPLER TIME when we weren’t fearful or at least vigilant. We remember with fondness the doors of the church being open all the time. American white Christianity is facing, in a small way, a reality that synagogues, African American churches and mosques have had to address their entire existence.
The troubling question: How do we find the right balance between commitment to hospitality and realistic awareness of risk? The very essence of the church is “come one, come all.” Hospitality is essential to the Christian life. We cease being church when we turn away the ones we’re called to serve out of fear for our own safety.
We, and many other churches, are wrestling with that right now. We’re making decisions on a number of safety issues. How to respond to heart attacks. Where do we meet our children’s church kids if there’s a fire so we know all are accounted for? How can prevent a person with ill intent from entering and roaming a building undetected.
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WE’RE NOT GOING TO HAVE armed guards at the door, but we will offer training on what to do in the event of a disruptive event. We’re not going to turn people away, but we’re going to limit access at times and places where people are most vulnerable.
The safety protocols we’re working on will inconvenience some of you. (We haven’t written them yet, but they will. And you will complain.) And once written and implemented, they cannot guarantee safety. They are to help us prepare for and manage the unexpected while also welcoming the stranger.
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MANY CONGREGATIONS are addressing this tricky balance between safety and hospitality. Each congregation faces its own unique challenges. Each congregation determines its threshold beyond which concerns for perceived safety undermine the ability to minister. As I questioned earlier, where is a right balance? A balance when we can be a place where safety of all is taken seriously, but also where the always risky act of welcoming the stranger remains key to our mission.
Pray for God’s guidance as we wrestle with this.
Pray for all places of worship that they might be safe havens striving to cause God joy.