By Pastor Paula Burchill
SLC recently hosted a memorial service for someone who had no connection to our church. The woman had traveled to the area to receive medical treatment, had family in the area and they called us to see if we would host a service for her.
This isn’t all that uncommon. I would guess close to a third of the services we host are for “non-members.” A memorial service is a lot of work. There is preparing the service, not to mention the kitchen crew and custodian, who spend hours setting up and cleaning up. While there are often honorariums involved, it is mostly a labor of love. And an act of hospitality.
In the bible, hospitality is defined as: the process of ‘receiving’ outsiders and transforming them from strangers to guests…Hospitality is always about dealing with strangers.
After the most recent service we hosted, I found myself telling the son of the woman that I hoped we were the church for his mom and his family. He was no longer a stranger, and as he grasped my hand and thanked us, I found myself thinking about what it means to be the church and to practice hospitality.
Jesus called the church his body on earth. We are how after he ascended to heaven, he continues to get his work done. He sent the Holy Spirit to enliven and help us, and then he trusts us to do his work.
It is a big call. And one we fail at often. But when it happens and we are the church, it is a beautiful thing.
When someone is baptized, the congregation makes promises to help the person grow in faith, love and obedience to the will of God. I was baptized in Williston, North Dakota in 1970. While that church nourished and taught me as I was a child, I have not regularly attended there since I graduated. Other churches have taken on the promises made by First Lutheran.
I bet that makes Jesus so happy. I really don’t think when he called us the church he was thinking of street addresses and buildings. He was thinking about people—about you and about me. And about how we would be there for each other when life was good, but especially when life is hard. And about how we would welcome strangers, so that strangers would become friends.
That is what the church does when it hosts a service. It says to families in need, you can come here. You can cry here, you can be carried in your grief here, and we will be your home—even if just for a few hours.
Because that is our call. That is who we are at our core: the church—the body of Jesus at work in the world, practicing hospitality and welcoming strangers.