A few years ago, I was at a college event at church. As I was scanning the crowd, making sure everyone had someone to talk to, I noticed her. I’d met her once before at an event. She was very shy, a little withdrawn, and certainly quiet. She wasn’t a “typical” outgoing, social, college student, and I remember being the only one who had talked to her at the previous event. I watched her eyes dart around the crowd looking for someone who would greet her, anyone who would notice her or welcome her into their conversation. She took a comfortable spot in the corner and tried to look interested in her food. I looked around for a student who I knew would be friendly and engaging, I knew she wanted to be welcomed by peers, not the old lady in the group. But before I could find someone to reach out to her, I watched her throw away her plate of full food and walk toward the door. I walked after her, but couldn’t find her. I’ve never seen her again.
A few weeks ago, I was at college small group. I watched a new person walk in and look at all of the other members grouped in their comfortable peer groups. He grabbed a chair and pretended to look interested in his phone. I looked around, hoping that someone would notice that he was new, that he didn’t know anyone, and he was uncomfortable. But everyone was caught up in conversations, laughter, sharing. He sat there alone for far too long.
I felt the heat rush to my face, and the knot form in my stomach, and wanted to scream, “look around you, welcome others, stop being cliquey.”
Afterall, the Church should be the most welcoming group of people on the planet.
I went home from small group that night fuming. I had a well-planned lecture with good scripture to back up my righteous fury. And as I laid in bed, unable to fall asleep, I heard that still small voice that reminded me to pause, and examine my own welcoming.
And as I sat in quiet and thought, I realized that I’m more objective with college students because my deepest desire is to see every student welcomed in, accepted, and grow in Jesus with their peers. My role is to be welcoming and to foster connection. I noticed this because I was looking for this. But when I’m with my own peers, I lose that objectivity. In that moment, I was reminded that:
* Under the guise of community, I have been exclusive and unwelcoming.
* With the label of authentic relationships, I have sought out people that act, look, and think like me.
* Through the pursuit of good friendships, I have formed cliques.
I was reminded that while I believe that everyone is welcome in the family of God, I don’t necessarily want to welcome everyone into my close circle in that family. I’m content to hang with the “family members” that I like, and keep the “awkward uncle” and “weird cousin” at a distance.
I love looking around the pews on Sunday and seeing people from different racial, socioeconomic, educational, and cultural backgrounds gathered together to worship.
I want to be part of a church that welcomes sinners and saints, rich and poor, homeless and resourced, squeaky clean and felon, shy and outgoing, rough around the edges and easy to love… Because I know that’s how it’s supposed to look. I love that Jesus welcomes everyone. But I don’t often want to be the one doing the welcoming. Not the real welcoming of including people really different from me into my small group or my group of friends or my home for dinner.
I don’t have a nice summary for this post. I’m sitting in the midst of this new and difficult revelation, and I’m asking God what it means for me to become more welcoming. I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts, insights, struggles, and stories with this.
How do you welcome? Who do you welcome? How do you balance having deep and meaningful friendships without becoming cliquey?