Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court oﬃcial of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. (Acts 8:27-31)
Dear Flock of the Shepherd of the Valley,
Many congregations identify themselves as welcoming communities. Some have signs that say “All Are Welcome” or sing songs with the same message. Scripture is full of references of God welcoming everyone and a lot of communities of faith strive to live this out. At the same time, personal anecdotes of not feeling welcomed abound. Sometimes these stories describe an explicit message of not belonging – a single, young adult who only hears events announced which cater to families with children, a person in a same-gender committed relationship who hears a sermon condemning homosexuality, a child in a wheelchair who cannot join in the games the other kids are playing, a person of a different Christian denomination who is denied communion.
More often it is subtle – not being helped when we can’t find our place in the hymnal (or even knowing that it’s called a hymnal in the first place!), being passed by during the sharing of the peace, wondering how to break in through the circle surrounding the refreshment table… We could spend a lot of time and energy debating whether or not we are welcoming and how to be more welcoming. It may be worthwhile to engage in these conversations. Yet being welcoming is a somewhat passive approach. We look long and hard at ourselves, make a few changes, maybe even listen to the experiences of being new and sit back and wait. Welcoming only requires anything if people find us.
A more active approach to being the church can be found through invitation. This requires us to be out among people who might be seeking a deeper relationship with God and others. An opportunity might arise to invite someone to worship on Sunday, but it could also be an invita-tion to something like movie night or Mirror Lake. When a relationship is already established before stepping into a possibly new worship experience, we are given a way to go back and have conversation about their experience and how welcoming it was.
The invitation between Philip and the eunuch began with the Spirit inviting Philip to go to a place where he would encounter someone seeking God. Yet it was actually the eunuch who invited Philip to join him in his chariot, seeking understanding of the writings of the prophet Isaiah. This relationship and guidance led to the eunuch desiring and being baptized.
On Saturday, August 19 we will celebrate the baptism of Tatiana. God has used us as agents of both invitation and welcome. God has invited Tatiana into a deeper relationship and she is ready to say yes! Let us celebrate!