Welcoming the stranger is more than an act of kindness. Exhibiting radical hospitality is not for the sake of the unfamiliar person alone or a mere church growth strategy. Rather, to truly welcome the stranger is to create an environment of mutuality that has the potential to lead toward transformative ministry. Bishop Gregory Palmer emphasizes this point when he preached that “Jesus is the ultimate stranger and invites each one of us to be hospitable in his name.”
This word was proclaimed at Community Development for All People’s 2016 All People’s Conference, “Welcoming the Stranger”. The very composition of the attendees illustrated the power created when diverse people come together. Over 100 participants shared their wisdom with one another, including people from 14 states, 17 annual conferees, 5 jurisdictions, and 11 denominations. A cursory glance around the room revealed diversity in age, race, class, and gender. An accumulation of business cards revealed theological diversity. Yet, is was in the ways people identified as “different” that a commonality was found in the potential of doing ministry with people most unlike ourselves.
In a world whose default position is often lack, Rev John Edgar offered an orientation of abundance that enables churches to live in to God-given opportunity. In a church body that is still too often segregated, Rev Gregory Kendrick and April Sunami provided a framework of poetic leadership and art that can lead toward multicultural worship. In a culture that exhorts individualism, Bishop Minerva Carcaño proclaimed “Our salvation is intrinsically tied to welcoming the stranger.”
While the focus of workshops and the sharing of participants invited broader thought on what it means to welcome the stranger, the most powerful example did not come from any of the identifiable leaders, but one of those who came to learn. Four years ago I met Kathryn Arndt as we began an outdoor worship service in Albuquerque, New Mexico, called Community of Hope. In welcoming Kathryn to the service, she was not only invited to share in a meal or participate in worship, she became a leader. Although living with a limited income herself, Kathryn fed others who were hungry and offered hope to people who faced housing insecurity as she had. In the last four years, she has become an advocate, particularly for homeless women. Kathryn reflected on the conference stating, “It was like being on top of a mountain, seeing the big picture, the possibilities before going back to the valley to engage again.” In seeing the transformation of Kathryn’s life, which is now dedicated to transforming others, the possibilities are abundant when we open our eyes, hearts, and hands to welcome the stranger.