Virtually every church these days puts a serious emphasis on the welcome it offers to visitors and newcomers. Some churches even have whole sectors of their work devoted to it – there are ‘Welcome Ministries’ and ‘Welcome Services’ and literature and guidance and support, and even ‘Welcome Lunches’. It is, of course, a thoroughly decent thing to make people feel at home and that we are glad they joined us.
But ‘welcome’ in St Paul’s thought is a much more expansive idea than simply making people feel at home or comfortable or like we are their friend. For Paul, ‘welcoming’ is placing yourself deliberately second to the needs and wellbeing of the other person. That is, he says, exactly what Christ did – Christ, who is God himself, came among us as a human being, and submitted to Jewish Laws and customs (which he alone, as God’s Son, had no need to keep!) for the sake of not just the Jews but also the Gentiles. Everything Christ did in his earthly life and ministry was for the wellbeing of others. Nothing was ever about his own self-preservation or self-interest; it was always for our sakes.
If Christ is our model in this regard, then the way we ‘welcome’ the stranger has got to be a lot deeper, a lot more soul-searching, a lot more costly than what we conventionally mean when we talk about ‘welcoming’ someone into church.
This sort of ‘welcome’, which seeks out the one who has wronged you and deliberately makes peace; which serves others when it might have a reasonable claim to being served; which accepts insults for another’s sake and does so willingly: this welcome is what Christ offered to us. In welcoming us that way, he saved us. If we can offer the same sort of costly welcome to others, then it may well be that, through our efforts, he will save them, too.
These devotions were originally written for the parish of All Saints, Ascot and we are grateful for permission to republish them on Fulcrum.
Patrick is curate of All Saints’, Ascot in Berkshire. A musicologist by training, he is married to Lydia, a university lecturer, and dad to Madeleine. He writes (sporadically) at benedixisti.wordpress.com and tweets (even more sporadically) as @patrickgilday.