The Strangers We Welcome

“I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.”

~ Psalm 84.10, NRSV

volunteers neededPastor Makeda Pennycooke, an African American pastor at Freedom House Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently sent an email to church volunteers that has caused some persons to rethink their understanding of the goals of cultural diversity in Christian worship and service.  In the email to those who would volunteer as greeters, she asked that only (socially colored) white people serve because “first impressions matter.”   Describing these greeters as “the best of the best,” Pastor Pennycooke wanted to draw persons who are socially colored white and might believe that having persons of other cultures at the doors of the church as greeters might scare them off.

In churches that are culturally diverse, it is often assumed (as mentioned in this article) that socially colored white people represent the wealth and subsequent future financial stability of the faith community.  In short, white= rich; black/ brown/ red/ yellow/ beige = poor.  Ironically, this perception may be due to the history of American slavery and the use of other cultures for forced labor and endless profit by those socially colored white in America.

Unfortunately, it is the desire of persons like Pastor Pennycooke to ensure that this group is well- represented and recruited even– not in service to the ministry of reconciliation or to reflect the diversity of God’s creation in worship but for the purpose of gaining financial security.  While the Bible speaks repeatedly about welcoming the stranger, it does not include a list of qualifications in order for them to enter.  In fact, Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing.  I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew. 25.35-36).

Jesus is not speaking as one who can support the Church but one who is in need of all that it has to offer.  When the Savior talks to the disciples about the future judgment of nations, they are separated based on those who met the physical and relational needs of others.  Jesus describes himself as hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and an inmate.  Would we welcome him as this kind of a stranger or do we, too, seek “the best of the best” to visit our churches?

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