Revisiting: An Unusual Guest
This post from October 21, 2007 is the one currently holding the record for most page views on this blog. While I’m no longer at Small Church (one pseudonym I’ll continue to use in this blog), I find the challenge described below to be one faced by every congregation: how do we accept those who are different from us?
Small Church is about as traditional as traditional can be. If you were to look up the definition for “traditional congregation,” you would find a photograph of the sweet faces that I see every Sunday morning. For the eight years I’ve been at Small Church, they’ve made a lot of noise about wanting to grow. I’ve made a lot of noise back about how growing means openness to and acceptance of people who do not look like they belong in our picture-perfect photograph of the traditional congregation. They say that is fine. Still, I feel sure that the teenage boy with long greasy hair who wore saggy black cargo pants and an old black t-shirt that showed off the tattoo that covered most of one arm probably felt a little bit less that completely welcomed by everyone. The same probably holds true for a young couple dressed a little, um, differently. Or, for that matter, my own daughter when she wears a shorter skirt (I’m her mom – I swear it isn’t that short!) or when she kicks off her most uncomfortable pair of dress shoes and walks barefoot.
So when BJ approached me a few weeks ago to exclaim excitedly, “I’m ready now! I want to join your church!” I knew we were in for some interesting times. She was so happy to have a church home that as the session stood in a circle holding hands and praying with her after welcoming her into membership, she cried tears of joy. She is so ready to find her place and begin serving. But I’ve been praying hard about it because I sense that this may be Small Church’s first really big test of their resolve to be open and accepting. You see, BJ was not cut out of the same cookie cutter mold that the majority of the congregation was. I pray, pray, pray that they will pass the test.
Today’s quiz? BJ brought a guest with her – Maggie. Maggie is six years old. She sat like an angel through the entire service, except for that one time during the prelude when she got up and ran around for a second. The catch? Maggie is a dachshund. She is a real sweetie and was much better behaved than most children would ever be in worship.
I thought it was pretty neat. I have no problem with it. I know that a good number of our members are animal lovers, although none of them have ever brought a furry family member to church before. I’m pretty sure I saw an few raised eyebrows. (One was from one of my elders – the one who keeps weekly records of our attendance. Imagine the look on her face when I told her to be sure to count Maggie as a first-time visitor!) But when BJ asked me after church if she could bring Maggie back again, I told her yes. I warned her that there was a possibility that a few people may not approve, but as long as she was not disruptive, I didn’t see why not.
BJ lives alone. I don’t imagine that she has a huge circle of friends. What family she has left all live out West. Maggie is her constant companion who goes with her everywhere she goes. I know that on at least one occasion, Maggie sat in the car during worship. (Thank goodness it wasn’t hot that day!) While I know it’s not “traditional,” it just seems right to accept BJ just as she comes to us, Maggie and all.
I feel sure I’ve not heard the last of this. I am praying that what I do hear, however, will surprise me.