An extravagant welcome — that's what we hope all our churches offer. No bouncers at the door, no ejector seats; instead, a warm and genuine Christian greeting.
How does the biblical virtue of hospitality translate into every day life where you are? The church where I am a member, Archwood UCC in Cleveland, is one of the most welcoming churches I have encountered and one of the most racially and economically diverse.
My first Sunday there I met a family that had adopted a number of children of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. They also sponsor a child through Global Ministries' Child Sponsorship program and volunteered at UCC-related Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Miss., the summer before hurricane Katrina hit.
At Archwood UCC, homeless people are truly welcomed. Persons with emotional or mental disabilities are given the microphone during prayer time to lift their concerns to God. A meal is served after worship that may provide the most nutritious food some of our members eat all week. An extravagant welcome!
Contrast any welcoming local church with the municipalities and states in our country that have recently voted to close their doors to undocumented immigrants, Many are passing laws to make it illegal to rent an apartment to a family without proper papers or to transport a sick person to a hospital if that person is undocumented.
How hospitable are we? Will your local church offer to sponsor a refugee family who has fled Iraq? Will we speak up for immigrant rights?
In June, the UCC's General Synod was petitioned by three different Conferences (Central Atlantic, Illinois and Southern California-Nevada) to pass a resolution calling for a more humane U.S. immigration policy.
Do you know what's been called "The Ultimate Immigration Handbook"? The Bible. It is a virtual compendium of stories about immigrants and refugees: Jesus, David, Moses, Paul. In the Hebrew scriptures, Joseph was a victim of what we now call "human trafficking," when people are transported, against their will or unknowingly, to other countries to work in slavery-like conditions or as sex workers. Baby Moses, who today would be considered an "unaccompanied alien child" and sent to a juvenile detention center, was protected and loved by Pharoah's daughter. He grew up to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt to escape unjust working conditions and terrible poverty. Centuries later, according to the New Testament, the holy family fled to Egypt to avoid living under a murderous tyrant.
Along with others in Church World Service, the UCC — with support from the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing offering — has joined in resettling nearly 500,000 refugees in the United States during the past 50 years.
Sponsoring a refugee family can be a transformational, faith-deepening experience for a local church.
Helen Fitzgerald, a member of a small UCC church in North Barnstead, N.H., wrote recently about a resettled family from Burundi. "To [work with a refugee] family is to know and be affected personally by the enormous impact of injustice in our world today. …and, I have much to learn from them about friendship, faith, optimism and gratitude."
Helen would probably echo Hebrews 13:2: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."
The Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte is executive minister of Wider Church Ministries, coexecutive of UCC/Disciples' Global Ministries, and a member of the UCC's fi ve-person Collegium of Officers.