Advent and Christmas are times of the year when many people step into our churches perhaps for the first time, or for the first time in a long while. It is a brave step for many. Maybe they have been planning for some time to take this step; perhaps there has been an ongoing issue or problem which they are a seeking an answer to; and now they turn to the Church for guidance and help. For others it is a spare-of-the-moment decision to satisfy their curiosity; they see people going each week into the church building and coming out full of spirit; it is something to be investigated. Through the open doors, the lights and music make them even more curious; so they step across the threshold to discover something new, or perhaps something familiar but which has long since been forgotten.
We do not have to wait for strangers to come to the church door to discover that for many people there is a longing for something more than what this world has to offer. Reaching out to neighbours in the street or colleagues in the workplace we will discover many who are longing to hear the good news of the Gospel; to be offered ways through the challenges in life; to be given hope and light in a world which can often, particularly in these winter months, be so full of darkness.
We need to be prepared, to have information ready to hand, about who we are as a parish, and what we offer to those who are searching; to have parishioners in the church porch with a welcoming smile and a word of greeting, putting the stranger at ease. Let us respond to the courage of those who step across the threshold, by us being courageous, stepping forward to welcome them, introducing them to Jesus born in the poverty of the stable, who offers an everlasting life of joy.
As we prepare to welcome people to our church it is worth looking at what we have to offer. Is there a greeting sign? Is the porch entrance bright and cheerful and are the greeters too? Is there information to hand out to visitors? Some parishes already have welcome leaflets to give visitors, telling them a little about the parish and its activities. For those attending a baptism, funeral or wedding there may be perhaps a few words of encouragement and explanation of how they contribute to the occasion. There may also be a list of ways a new parishioner might be more involved in the parish.
The opportunity for evangelisation – for spreading the Good News and leading people to Jesus, is right on our doorstep. Let us make the most of those moments when reaching out can make so much of a difference in the lives of strangers. Our greeting is an invitation to join us on our journey of faith, to come closer to God through Jesus Christ, to receive the love and joy that he has to offer. And an invitation to become more involved in that community of faith which is the parish.
Whatever we do, let us be sure to give the one message to the stranger, the visitor and the one who is returning: ‘Welcome Home!.
Deacon Adrian Cullen