I have a friend, a devout Roman Catholic (the editor of a Catholic magazine at one time), who told me that she once took her kids to a nearby Episcopal church. That congregation had a woman priest on staff and my friend wanted her kids to see a woman at the altar, something they never saw at their Catholic parish. She thought both her children–a boy and a girl–needed to see a woman leading worship.
Her daughter, who was about five at the time, had a stuffed animal that was her “security blanket,” a stuffed fluffy black kitty. After worship, the priest stood at the door of the church greeting everyone as they left. When she got to my friend’s children, she squatted down to be at their eye level and told them that she had a cat at home, too. And then she asked some questions about the stuffed animal and shook their hands.
This doesn’t seem like a big thing, but it was. These children had never seen or experienced anything like that before. They had a whole new view of church. It connected to their lives in a different way. That little girl could imagine herself at the altar because she could see herself there.
The little things can make a lasting impression.
My former congregation took out some of the back pews to make room for families with small children. It was a very poor urban church, but they asked for, and got, donations of a lovely rug and a couple rocking chairs. Volunteers made a space where the pews used to be so that folks with little children or babies could go there to rock them when they got fussy but still participate in worship.
Someone brought in a big basket and others filled it with books and toys to occupy the kids. The children and parents were there for worship, even when the inevitable fidgeting occured.
I knew it made a difference when a young couple–new to the neighborhood and visiting for the first time–commented to me, “I think we’ll be back–we hope to have children soon and we can see they will be welcomed here.” In a visual way, that space said to members and visitors, “This parish values children and wants them to participate in our worship.” What a statement about hospitality!
I challenge you to think of ways your welcome might expand and deepen. How does your congregation and women’s group say to members and visitors, “We value you and want you to participate”? The April issue of Lutheran Woman Today magazine is focused on hospitality.
We also have this short resource for small groups: “Hospitality: More Than Warm and Friendly.” It is based on the premise that true hospitality opens us up to meeting the needs of others as a natural part of our discipleship.
Kate Sprutta Elliott is editor of Lutheran Woman Today magazine.