After I moved about a year ago, I halfheartedly started the process of church shopping. Following a few awkward Sunday mornings, we began to semi-regularly attend a Baptist church not far down the street from my house. As a lifelong United Methodist, I honestly felt a little like a traitor. I’d gone to Baptist church every time our family would visit Nanny and Papa, and while I do believe that the main tenets of Christianity (should) typically remain the same regardless of denomination, we all know that a Baptist church differs from a United Methodist church differs from an Episcopalian church, etc., etc.
I am a Methodist PK (preacher’s kid for those unaware of the acronym) and believed that what the United Methodists say they believe was also what I believe. After all, their slogan is “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” But, last week, after a little meet-and-greet for visitors and new people hosted by a church member, I tallied that this Baptist church was racking up points for their hospitality. In addition to plentiful food and conversation at the social, each time I’ve gone to church on Sunday, at least one person has spoken to me. This doesn’t sound like much to write home about, but you may or may not be surprised to hear that I’ve been to plenty a church where not a single soul went out of their way to greet me. Other than their mastery of southern hospitality, my new church (it even feels a little strange to write that– my new Baptist church!) also excels at genuine hospitality. (Some of us may be aware that these two types are not always synonymous.)
What I mean by genuine hospitality is that the church doesn’t just say “all are welcome,” they actually mean that all are welcome “regardless of race, class, origin, sexual orientation, or any other distinction.” And, when you sit down on the pew and look around, or talk with your neighbors, you realize that all really are welcome because those distinguished people are actually there to prove it. And, not only are we all welcome to worship, the church is actually willing to meet the diverse needs of those who desire to strengthen their relationship with God and become part of a community of fellow followers of Christ. This may mean fostering an AIDS Care Team, a prison ministry, an environmental group, or “Out and About”– an LGBTQ social group. It means a lot of things, but mostly it means inviting people into the community to be who they are, not to change them. It involves actively being the loving, accepting church and not just saying it.
I am no expert on anything and am far from perfect, but I have experienced many churches (people, too) in my short lifetime that choose to talk the talk, but not walk the walk. This is not meant to be a direct criticism on any one group, but because this slogan already exists, I’ll just say that “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” means nothing unless it is actually put into diligent, genuine practice.
I am thankful to have found a church home, whether it is one whose origins stem from John Wesley or somebody else I haven’t even heard of because I know nothing about Baptist heritage. Thankfully, as I’ve realized, the point is not about names or relatives or history; the point is that people should be loved regardless of any distinctions we may bear, and should be accepted into the Body of Christ that is not perfect, but strives to live as the one perfect human, Jesus, did. I will gladly be a part of any group which chooses to love God and love people in reality and not just because it looks or sounds good in theory– even if it means no more trying to “beat the Baptists to lunch.”