Several weeks ago we had a friendly dog wander into our church and sanctuary less than an hour before worship, all but one member of our church family was pleased. That one member of our church family was quite upset that someone who wasn’t one of us and who was different from us came expecting to be welcomed. She was upset that the dog might get some attention that she believes is hers by right. She made a fuss, basically trying to run the dog off as loudly and crossly as possible.
Of course, I am not talking about any human member of our church family. I am talking about Lexi Dog. Lexi and her “sister” Kiwi are the two Nofel dogs who live in the back yard of the Manse across the parking lot from our church building. They are two of the best unofficial church greeters in Western Colorado Presbytery. From the back yard of the Manse they welcome each worshiper and visitor to our church with great enthusiasm.
Kiwi and Lexi “talk” to each arriving person, offering their best smiles and whines and yips. They give welcoming doggie licks and kisses, and generally put a smile on all our faces as we head into the church building. That is, everyone they know.
Strangers are sometimes another matter. If a person, especially a man, is on a skateboard, a bike or a scooter, Lexi will bark at them loud and with a bit a malice in her voice. If another dog enters the manse/church parking lot the din is enormous. Lexi is very territorial. She does not like strange dogs in her space.
When our friendly church dog visitor followed me to the manse a few weeks ago before worship so I could pick up my cross and then back to church, Lexi was downright mean to her. Not only was the stranger in her space, it was actually receiving attention from her friend and pastor. I translated Lexi’s barks to mean, “Steve, ignore that beast and come over and give me some loving.”
One of the things we do well as a congregation is welcome strangers. Before worship and during the passing of the peace, most of us make sure to talk with them and welcome them into our midst. At the same time, we must be sure to always make sure we are including them before worship when we are catching up with our friends. We need to sit with visitors in our sanctuary and in our fellowship hall. We need to see that they are comfortable, have a bulletin, and are introduced during announcement time. We do a good job, but a reminder is always in order. Also keep in mind nothing I have observed in our church has prompted these thoughts, except Lexi's jealous behavior.
Sometimes, in churches, try as we might to be welcoming, one person saying a cross word, giving a look to a stranger sitting in their seat, or going on with a conversation with our friends before acknowledging a visitor can put people off. It is like Lexi barking at the doggie visitor. Everyone else was so welcoming, but I imagine our K-9 visitor went home telling her family about the one who yelled at her.
Yes, that is a bit fanciful. But a reminder to fulfill the Apostle Paul’s prompt to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2Cor 13:12) is directed at all of us, all the time. Our job is to greet our best friends and newcomers. Remember “holy kiss” is defined by Presbyterians as a hearty handshake or a quick hug. We usually do it really well, now if we could only teach Lexi.
Grace and Peace, Steve Nofel