It is a pleasure to be with you at First Church as we begin our ministry together. Thank you for helping me to find my way. After serving 13 years in my previous congregation, I had gotten to the point where I knew the names of most of the people who came through our doors. At Plymouth Church, I would still occasionally fumble with a name or two but I benefited from an ease of familiarity that came with longevity. It was wonderful to worship with you last Sunday and have the opportunity to greet so many of you after the service. It dawned on me, however, as I shook the hands of so many, that it would be a while before all of your names could easily come to me. I appreciate your patience as I try to get it right. Your generosity and kindness with me has more than compensated for my struggles with name recall.
In some ways, it is a good experience for a pastor to start some place new because he or she discovers a newly found appreciation for what it must be like for guests to come to a church for the first time. You see the church through the eyes of a guest because you are also a newcomer. Homecoming Sunday on September 9 will be a wonderful time to practice our welcome. Indeed, we will be particularly blessed with guests who, as I, will be fumbling a bit. What door to go on in? Where is the nursery? What are these strange words I have not seen before? What is a “Gloria Patri” and who is Gloria anyway? Will I find a good seat where I can see what is happening with all these adults around? Will someone say hello to me and ask my name and linger around to hear my story?
Even if you have been at First Church for a while, it’s possible that you might still be unfamiliar with a few people. Sometimes being away for the summer is good for your soul but not so great for your memory! Coming back in the fall, you may have lost some of your name recall and have to reintroduce yourself to people you have known for a long time. Some worry if they ask a person’s name, they might get a response like: “I have been a member here for 30 years!” My experience with such awkward moments is that people, with very few exceptions, are most gracious. Muster up your courage and take the risk. If someone should be brave enough to ask again what your name is, then by all means receive the request as a great opportunity to move a little closer and make a friend. In my daughter’s room hangs a piece of art that was a gift from a friend. It reads, “when it hurts to look back and you are afraid to look ahead; look beside you and there will be your friends.” I can’t think of better or more gentle words of wisdom for Homecoming Sunday.
I am so excited to begin our ministry with you as we extend a warm welcome to all who come through our doors. Let us seek to welcome others as if we were welcoming Christ himself. But as we move through the awkwardness and fumble to get it right, may we live with an awareness of God’s amazing grace, love, patience and forgiveness for us and all whom we have the privilege of meeting.
May the peace of the risen Christ be with you!