When I began this blog as part of our yearly conversation around welcoming, we had not yet heard the news of Rev. Mark Ward’s passing. In the days that followed, I have witnessed your love and compassion for each other. I have watched you create spaces for grief and comfort. Together, you have embodied what it means to be a community, especially when life unfolds in unexpected ways. Together, you have practiced radical hospitality for each other and those who loved Mark. May we continue to care for each other as we travel these days together.
“Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world.” –St. Benedict
To be hospitable is a radical act, according to Benedict, whose rule of radical hospitality has been adapted by communities for centuries. Even for Unitarian Universalists, the concept of radical hospitality as welcome lies at the heart of our congregational life.
When new people arrive at our doors on Sunday, we have greeters who welcome them into our sanctuary, offer them coffee after the service, and introduce them to people who can connect them with our many community offerings. We wear name tags so they can identify us. We engage in a conversation so we may know and be known.
But welcoming doesn’t stop after your first visit.
Radical hospitality as welcome is also how we choose to live into our covenantal faith. As Unitarian Universalists, we are not bound by creeds–beliefs you must hold to join us–but by covenant. Covenant, as Rev. Alicia Forde says, is how “we attend deeply to the question, ‘How are we together?’ Our willingness to extend welcome–seeing the humanity and divinity in another, honoring their culture, identities, stories, and deeply held truths–is part of what it means to embody this faith.”
Welcoming is the first act and the ongoing work for belonging. It is impossible to belong in a place where you don’t feel welcomed. Yes, we welcome first-time visitors, we learn their names, and we invite them for coffee and conversation. And we keep inviting the fellow member we’ve known for five months, five years, five decades into the conversation, into deeper engagement, and to share a cup of coffee. To welcome over and over again is to extend the invitation of belonging.
Welcoming takes many forms, and it takes all of us. It is saying “hello,” and it is volunteering. It is seeing a stranger on Sunday morning and introducing yourself. It is weeding our grounds on Saturday morning with fellow members. It is listening to the story of a long-time member and meeting something new in them and possibly yourself. Radical welcome is the first and constant step we take to become a place of belonging.