The Welcome Wagon

Struedel, scones, even apple pandowdy!

Once upon a time, when a person would move into a neighborhood they would be met by the Welcome Wagon.  Usually a few neighbors would whip up some dishes and pop on by to meet the new family.  The food was an olive branch, a gift to help ease the moving in process by eliminating the need to make meals for the first few days.  Eventually meals became a cake, plate of cookies, or a cute little house plant.  The sentiment was the same, the gift was merely an excuse to meet the new family and welcome them to the neighborhood.

Just as much as the family wanted to make a good impression as they moved into their new house… the neighborhood was equally as concerned with making a good impression too.  The neighbors wanted to make sure that the new residents found the neighborhood to be more than just suitable but instead an enjoyable place to live and raise a family.

As time as passed, in many areas the Welcome Wagon is a thing of history.  In the six times I can remember moving during my lifetime, I’ve never actually experienced a Welcome Wagon.  In fact, in many cases months passed before I properly met neighbors.  This includes the generation who would have grown up with Welcome Wagons and neighbors being neighborly.  That’s not to say that we haven’t gotten to know our neighbors, but it certainly wasn’t as intentional or immediate.

Times changed.

When I watch movies or television and I see a group of neighbors eagerly welcoming the new residents to the neighborhood… to be entirely honest… I feel jilted.  Like I missed out on some great opportunity of friendliness and neighborly ritual.  When I find out that it still happens in some cities, I’m in full jealousy mode.  And yet, I must admit, I’ve not made the attempt to BE THAT NEIGHBOR either.  When someone new moved in to our neighborhood… I was not baking up a tray of cookies or putting together a casserole.

In some regards, we have lost our way when it comes to hospitality.

Two years ago, on New Years Eve, something shifted.  We have a family tradition for the holiday that includes an all day food smorgasbord.  It’s all our favorite junk and snack foods, and the one time of year where we put our “healthy eating” aside and indulge.  We look forward to it each year, and there is always more food than we could ever eat.  In recent years we began inviting our friends to join us, kind of an open house.  Two years ago, we stepped outside to watch the New Years Eve fireworks and our neighbors had family visiting from out of town.  This couple had brought fireworks of their own, and seeing my kids empty handed and watching from our driveway… they extended the olive branch.  As our kids ran around with sparklers and my husband lit off a few of the bigger fireworks they gave to us… I headed in the house to bring out some food to share.  We put up a folding table and the two households laughed at our kids running around … and admired the lights in the sky.

Last summer, it was 4th of July, and a new family was in the process of moving in.  They unloaded the moving truck until it was too dark.  Instead of heading inside to start unpacking, they set out some chairs to watch the fireworks, and waited for the pizza delivery guy to show up.  My youngest noticed they had two little girls, oohing and aahing over the light show.  She asked if she could take some of our sparklers and bring them to the family.  Of course I let her, remembering the kindness of our neighbors the previous year.  The little girls ran around with those sparklers as if we had given them the best gifts in the world.

Now, we have children in the neighborhood that I spoil with little gifts and trinkets.  It brings me joy to see their driveway covered in the sidewalk chalk we gave them at the start of spring break.  A neighbor down the way had a bicycle she didn’t need any longer and walked it down, offering it to my daughter.  A subtle shift has happened in our neighborhood, where neighborly hospitality is being revived.  It’s absolutely beautiful.

Maybe you too have felt like hospitality has been waning.  The great news is that all is not lost.  At any given time, any given one of us, can make the choice to bring hospitality back into our lives, neighborhoods, cities, and churches.

  1.  Evaluate Your Hospitality –  Is there any plan for welcoming new faces?   If so, how is that plan working out?  Is it time to revamp it?  If there is not one, what could be done to start being more intentional about how we welcome new people into our lives or ministry?
  2. Employ the Spiritual Gifts of Hospitality – Find the people within your church who have the spiritual gift of hospitality.  Let them lead the charge in how we welcome guests, new members, families, etc.  
  3. Put Out the Welcome Mat – Ensure that your church, ministry, or organization is giving the impression that guests are welcome.  When someone comes knocking at the door, who is going to invite them in?  Do you have a welcome committee who can direct them on where to go, or how to find information?
  4. Seek Out the Community – Hospitality isn’t only about serving those who are knocking on our doors, but also extending an invitation to the community.  We do this by reaching out and serving in the community, outside of our church walls.  Meeting people, learning about those who live around us, and inviting them to visit.
  5. Create Comfort – Hospitality is a welcoming invitation to the stranger, a welcome mat for the visitor, and creating a safe place for the resident.  Once a guest becomes a member we need to ensure they feel as welcome and valued as they did when they first arrived.

Have a Welcome Wagon or Committee for your church, ministry, or organization.  Let them use their gifts in this area to help create, foster, and build a solid plan for making sure people feel welcome and cared for in your space.

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