Offering a ‘Welcome Home’

Take me to church...

After college I moved to Louisville to attend law school.
With time, I would eventually find a wonderful group of friends.
And with time, I’d be able to navigate the city rather than continually rely upon Garmin’s directions.
And, true, eventually with time I’d fall in love with the city’s quirky character and charm.
When I first arrived though, it was far from my home.

***

One of my first Sundays in town, I walked to the church at edge of my street. From my apartment balcony, I could see its towering spires. Daily, I could hear its bells chiming.

The church stood before me, a baroque edifice of grey stone decorated with flourishes and statues. I had five minutes until the start of Mass, but I was surprised to see an empty parking lot. Perhaps everyone walks to Mass?

The stone steps, aged and buckling, were uneven as I climbed to the front door of the church. The door towered over me as my hand gripped the handle. Locked? I tried the other door, also locked.

Three minutes till Mass. I looked at the sign in front of the church which listed the mass times. I looked down at my watch, confused. Where was everyone? I looked back to the sign which read in big, bold letters: WELCOME.

Yet, there was no welcome, and there was no community, and I never made it through the door.

***

The next Sunday, I drove into an old German neighborhood. The church’s red bricks offered a sense of comfort: old, worn, and persisting.

I walked inside, found a pew, and had a seat. No one sat near me, but I didn’t take it personally. When the sign of peace came, I politely waved and smiled. One or two people nodded in return.

Just before communion the priest made an announcement, “Umm… We seem to be short a minister. Can someone volunteer?” I didn’t move—it wasn’t my place. But, no one else moved or volunteered either. The priest cleared his throat, “I still need one more minister.”

Still, no one moved. Should I volunteer? No. They don’t know me…It would be weird to help them without knowing them, right? I had served in college, so I knew the words, motions, and role. I could do it, but should I?

The priest called again, and I looked around the room. No one was moving.
So, I stepped forward solemnly and walked up to the sanctuary…

After mass, a hand motioned me over. It was a little old lady wearing a blue dress and a yellow shawl. Finally, a real welcome. I introduced myself, but she did not say her name in return: “You’re too young to give communion! I don’t know what you were thinking! It’s kids like you who are the problem with…” She went on and on… Thankfully, I was too shocked to respond. I let her speak, then I nodded and wished her a good week.

I thought they wanted me. I thought they accepted me. I even thought they might have needed me.
But, I guess not.

***

A few Sundays later, a different church. At the door, I was greeted immediately by a little boy in a blue suit. His father stood proudly behind him, smiling and wearing an identical blue suit. I thanked them as I walked past.

The pink marble and granite of the church appeared gentle and welcoming—full of the life, light, and colors cast by the stained glass in the morning sun. A low whisper of voices and movement filled the room. I walked along the left side and found a seat in an empty pew. A moment later, a small hand rested on my shoulder. I looked up to see an elderly lady and an elderly man.

“Excuse me, sir. My family sits here.” My heart dropped in my chest, and my mouth gaped. Could she be serious? Is she asking me to move? Am I supposed to leave?

I quickly mumbled, “Oh, I’m sorry,” but with a hand wave she cut my apology short.
Then, she winked at me, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to be in our family this week.”
Before I could react—she hugged me.

She and her husband sat on either side of me. Their family trickled into the pew and the surrounding pews. I met their children and their grandchildren. I even saw the little rosy-colored nose of their great-granddaughter sticking out from the blankets. All the while, the couple introduced me as “adopted” into the family.

I may have walked in a stranger, but I left welcomed into a family.
I was excited to return week after week to a community who lovingly adopted me.
They had given me a home.

-//-

The cover image, from Flickr user StevenW., can be found here.

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