A few years ago I had the immense privilege of visiting mainland China. It was a wonderful experience (not just for the food) where I met some amazing people who have made an impact on me, and on my faith in Jesus. I met Christians who had endured incredible hardships because of their faith and had refused to deny what they knew to be true. I met believers who were being amazingly imaginative in how they led churches and trained ministers in an environment where it was against the law to do so.
I also had the opportunity to visit an English Language school that was being run by some American Christians (from the South of America) and was given the opportunity to talk with some of the students so they could practice their English. We had previously sat in on the start of their lesson and I was fascinated that the lesson began with the teachers greeting the students in a Southern drawl, “Hi – how are y’all?”
The students repeated the welcome in response in an interesting blend of Chinese intonation and pseudo-Southern drawl.
When I had the chance to talk with the students I confess I was a bit mischievous. They were fascinated that I had a different accent: a quintessentially English accent (if you know me you’ll wonder at that description too, but it was because of the contrast, I think). Anyway, I decided that they needed to learn some English English so I told them that there are different ways of greeting people in England and told them that we offer a handshake to people we meet and say, “How do you do?”
I told them that next time their teacher began with, “Hi, how are y’all?” they should respond with, “How do you do?” in as posh an English accent as they could manage. I don’t know if they did, but the thought tickles me that it may have happened, just imagining the look on the teacher’s face!
At our Deacons’ Meeting last night we looked at how we welcome people in our church and looked at how we can go beyond simply greeting them well. Part of it was about offering to accompany newcomers through a service so that they could ask questions, and be helped if we do things that we assume everyone knows about. Part of it was about making sure that they were remembered and contacted further during the week. Part of it was looking to introduce them to other people in the church and helping them to find where they belonged. But most of all it is about an attitude of openness and invitation. We heard how the experience for some of the deacons when they first came to the church was that the people with whom they sat took an interest in them, looked out for them, invited them for a meal, shared their lives with them. One of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament is ‘hospitality’. It’s an expression of God’s love in action.
The temptation is to think that it’s just for some people, but it’s a gift for the church, surely, and while some are more natural about it than others, it is a gift we can all exercise if we use it, if we ask for it, and if we want it.
Be blessed, be a blessing (y’all)