Who Is Welcome?

Last week I played for a worship of a group of ministers. One of them shared this story…

There’s a little congregation that is delighted if they have 25 people in attendance–that’s a crowd! One of the women brings her grandchildren as often as possible, but if they don’t come, the congregation didn’t have children. The congregation is in a university town, so it’s not surprising when they have young adults come by to check them out.

One particular Sunday, a young man came. He indicated that he was doing research on some churches and just wondered if it would be okay if he came to some of the services and social events. He was warmly welcomed–and he attended for several months.

About four months later, his wife came one Sunday, bringing their two children–a little 4-year-old boy, and a little girl who wasn’t walking yet. The children had instant grandparents! As the family continued coming, the congregation made sure that the nursery was available, that Sunday school happened, and they continued to claim the children as their own.

Several months later, during the “sharing” time at the beginning of the service, the young man spoke. “I have a confession to make,” he said. He wasn’t really doing research. When he and his family had moved to the town, they had gone to the church they were members of, excited about the possibility of being in that community of faith. They had taken their children to the nursery–where there were about 12 children and 5 staff–and shared in the worship.

But when they went to pick up their children, they were told that it would be better if they didn’t bring their little boy back. This little blond-haired boy who had a grin that split his face, who was so loving, who so enjoyed being with friends and at church…this little boy also had Down’s Syndrome. And he wasn’t welcome there.

The family was devastated. Somehow they found their way to this other church. The father told them he was doing research because he didn’t want to be seen as someone who could be proselytized–as a candidate for baptism. But he and his family had been made so welcome–so accepted as a part of the community–that they now wanted to make it official.

Because this church believed in baptism by immersion–and because they did not have a working font–arrangements were made with the local YMCA, who opened up an hour early and allowed the congregation to use their facilities to unite these two parents with the community of faith.

Sad story? In some ways. But also a delightful story–and a challenge to each of us. Who do we welcome to our table…both individually and corporately? If we see each other as children of one family–as brothers and sisters in Christ–how can I tell anyone they are not welcome?

Jesus invites all to his table…