By Patrick Showers, Elementary Pastor
Several years ago, a single mom of two children decided to attend our church. She had never been to a church and came very reluctantly. Her past experiences, her pain, and her perceptions led her to believe that even though she felt compelled to be here, she wouldn’t be accepted because of her past. As is typical for many of us on Sunday morning, life conspired to make it a very challenging task to just get into the building. By the time she started bringing her children down the halls of Heroes Gate, she had contemplated turning around to leave. At this moment, I greeted her and started talking to her children. I assisted her to the correct rooms, where each volunteer warmly welcomed her and the children. When she told this story to me later, she said at that point something changed in her heart. She realized that God loved her and her kids. The sermon that day took that open heart to a healing place in the embrace of God’s love. A few months later she was baptized. She was on the edge of leaving, yet a simple smile and hello changed her trajectory.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in Mark 10. We find Jesus teaching. A few parents push forward and ask for Jesus to bless their children. The disciples, thinking that children aren’t important enough to interrupt their teacher, turn them away. Jesus, instead of being in agreement, gets very upset at his disciples. He tells them to never keep children from coming to him. He went even further by saying that no one could be a part of God’s Kingdom unless they entered like a child. Jesus then embraced the children and blessed each one. His teaching was interrupted because He wanted to demonstrate the importance of showing each person love and dignity regardless of their age.
Every Sunday, families enter Heroes Gate. Each has their own story. Some are regulars, some are here occasionally, and others are visiting for the first time. Regardless, our desire is to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and valued. Hospitality is practiced in every aspect of our morning. We all have a desire to be known and to belong. We want to feel connected to others. It starts with a smile and a warm welcome, but it doesn’t stop there. Volunteers intentionally utilize every moment with children to deepen this sense of belonging. We work hard to help kids have meaningful connections with peers, with their leader, and, most importantly, with Jesus.
A warm welcome is a key element of the church. It is agape, that selfless and other-centered love, that is expressed in simple ways: a smile, a greeting, a willingness to help, seeing someone that seems hesitant or lost, and more. This expression of God’s love is the first step for many people, whether they are looking for a church home or looking for God. This isn’t just something that staff and volunteers can do. Everyone in our church can practice this simple form of hospitality. Greet people around you, say hi to other parents while dropping your kids off in Heroes Gate, and invite someone to lunch after service. You never know – your warm welcome could be a life-changing moment for someone.