There are some words you never want to hear at church:
“That’s my pew.”
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“That’s not how we do things here.”
“You’re not welcome here.”
And then there are the lack of words that sting just as much:
No one greeting you.
The stares when your baby cries.
The constant sighs as your toddler runs down the aisle.
No one offering to guide you when you are lost when the bulletin or hymnal confuses you.
Standing alone with coffee and snacks.
And insert any other unwelcome remarks that you may have experienced which made you feel less than welcome or understood in a church. Unfortunately, the church frequently fails as a place of refuge.
On the flip side there are also words that heal, that touch us, that remind us we are loved and welcomed and honored for who we are.
There are words that can push pass the doubts and insecurities we take with us to church.
There are words that see into our hearts and acknowledge the feelings we hold.
There are words that come from a place of deep gratitude.
There are words that come from years of seeing neighbors, friends, and strangers as Christ among us.
Yes, there are words that hurt, especially when heard in the context of church and worship, but similarly there are words that speak God’s grace. It takes practice and forgiveness over and over again to be a church and a people who can speak words of love to everyone who enters. It takes times of falling short and times of recognizing the sin in our eyes. It takes the times where we ourselves have felt left out and alone that compel us to not allow others to feel that way.
Perhaps it takes sitting in God’s presence and hearing the words that God speaks to us and knowing that they are for all:
Welcome, we’re glad you’re here. You are loved.