This is an excerpt from some writing I did awhile back. I hope it leads you to think about your relationship with the church. When has the church been a "new place" for you?
I grew up on a farm in the middle of the northern Indiana. Many days were spent talking to livestock and jumping out of hay mounds with my three siblings. So, when I moved from rural community to rural community in the early days of adulthood, I did not feel like a fish out of water. The cornfields as far as the eye could see, the woods lining the back of our property, and the miles to the nearest grocery story all felt familiar and welcoming. I knew this terrain and loved the sound of cicadas and crickets in those early fall nights.
I had also grown up as Old Blood in my town. The family joke was that my dad had to leave our small town to get a wife…because he was related to all the girls here. The third of four kids in a small rural school, the teachers loved me at the first glance of my last name. I was someone without even trying. This was not true in these new little towns I found myself moving to. I was a new person. They were the old blood and the familiar names and none of them had need for another friend.
This was the reality that hit me hard when I took my toddlers to playgrounds or came to school sporting events. No one needed to bother with another person. I lived here, but I was not part of their community. Nor would I be. Each time I reached out, I was ignored or worse treated as a weirdo. Strangers don’t talk to each other in these places.
This is the reality that hits many of us as we come to new places. We come as people whom the community doesn’t really care to include. The smaller the community the harder it is to break into. Indeed, some people who even marry into the local famous names, still never feel like they belong in these places. Forty years. Fifty years. This is not their place. They are only visitors.
But not in God’s community. God’s church makes a place for new people.
In fact, the Bible teaches that welcoming strangers is as old as Genesis. From travelers on Abraham’s doorstep all the way to Paul in Rome at the end of the New Testament. The church is a place for people without a place. Bible heroes are often heroes not for their capacity to love those in their city, but for their choice to love the travelers: Abraham, Lot, Rebekah, Rahab, the Woman at the well, the Disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Lydia.
Each week the church lives into this with her welcome to strangers at her door. She welcomes in people without a community and gives them a place. She introduces new friends to old. She invites strangers into her community and then makes a way for these people in the larger community. She encourages residents to welcome newcomers.