One of my favourite places in the world is the arrivals hall at an airport. More specifically, I love the walking from Customs and Border Patrol in an American airport through to the international arrivals hall. On the other side of the metal detectors and glass doors, someone from my family will be waiting for me. I’ll be welcomed with smiles, hugs and excitement for the visit ahead. All of my bags are taken off of me and I no longer need to overcome sleep deprivation to determine where I need to be next. All around me other travellers who are tried from long flights are welcomed with similar exuberance. For me, this is welcome: being greeted, embraced, loved, celebrated and taken care of.
Most of us will have stories of welcome, although they might not take place in the arrivals hall of an international airport. It might be that time when someone opened the door of their home as they invited you in for a meal. Or it could be your first visit to Gateway when someone walked across the room to greet you as you came through the door.
Did you know that we have all experienced a welcome that is even greater that any of these? In Romans 15:7, Paul encourages us to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” How did Christ welcome us? He welcomed us into relationship with the Father: the cross and the resurrection were acts of welcome! Let that sink in for a minute.
We feel God is really speaking to us as a church about the idea of welcome right now. Our vision is to be an allsorts church; a big part of that is being a welcoming church. In the past, Gateway has done really well at this – but we feel that God is calling us to go deeper. God has spoken to us about a welcome that breaks down barriers of upbringing, nationality, language and culture. This might all sound really intimidating and exhausting in the face of a busy term. However, the idea isn’t that we need to do more. While there will be events that take place over the next few months to help facilitate welcome, our heart and prayer is that we focus on creating a culture of welcome.
A culture of welcome will include many different things, some of which might seem obvious. For example, hosting international students after our International Student Welcome Services or speaking to someone who comes for the first time on a Sunday. Going deeper in these areas could mean offering to pick up an international student once a month and take them to the shop when you go or sitting next to the new person through the whole service and answering any questions they have. A culture of welcome could mean that you text someone with encouragement or to find out how their week is going; it might mean inviting someone to dinner who has been coming to Gateway for a while but still feels like they are on the edges. Maybe you have other ideas that you can share!
If this does feel overwhelming or you aren’t sure where to begin, we have three suggestions. First, pray that God will help change your heart and mind and enable to you love those who are different to you. Second, look out for people who are on the edge. Finally, ask people how you can best welcome, love and support them personally.
Paul shared with the church in Rome a reason why he wanted them to welcome others: because it would bring glory to God. We want the same. So the question I leave you to consider is this: will you join us for a term of welcome?