As I searched online for a new mat for my front door, I scrolled through many that weren’t quite right. But one of those caught my attention even as I passed it by. Printed on the mat were the words “Welcome Home.”
It sounded nice, but what did it mean? My house is your house? Feel free to peek behind the closet doors? The rent check is due the first of the month? It felt like false advertising, even though with the kindest of intentions. Maybe it would be perfect for a cozy vacation rental—a place you love to imagine owning but have to leave after a week.
There’s a difference between a guest and an owner. Professor and writer Drew Hart, who has spoken at a number of Church of the Brethren events, describes this difference as he explains inclusion in the church. You may tell your guest to “make yourself at home,” but you don’t mean that this person should remodel your living room or renovate the house. The visitor is welcome, but there are limits. The church might say it welcomes you, but hold you at arm’s length.
What does it mean for the church to truly welcome? For starters, we need to remind ourselves that the house is not ours. When we extend the welcome, we are standing in for the true owner.
And what are the owner’s instructions? Fortunately, there are multiple books in the Bible that tell us who Jesus welcomed. The Gospels are the measuring stick by which we know how wide our welcome should be.
Maybe most of the problems of the church stem from forgetting who the owner is. Does God watch sadly at our fumbling efforts to decide who we welcome into the house that we don’t own?
On second thought, I do like that Welcome Home mat. If we take it seriously, it’s hard work. But it’s a theological statement we can stand on. It belongs in front of the door of every church that earnestly asks who Jesus welcomes, and then tries to follow his example.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and communications.