There’s a tradition in many churches that at the end of a worship service, the pastor walks to the back of the church and stands by the doorway and shakes everyone’s hand as they leave the building. When I first became a pastor, I upheld the tradition, but it was awkward at first. I’m not sure why. Maybe I wasn’t yet comfortable with my new role. Over time, I have come to look forward to this part of the service. I get to greet everyone who has come, those I know well and those I don’t, those who come regularly and occasionally, and those who have come for the first time.
I don’t know how this tradition began, or whether there was any sort of theology behind it, but to me it’s symbolic of the reality that God cares about each and every person there, regardless of age or attendance practices or social standing. Every person there is a child of God.
Since a fire burned our sanctuary last December, we’ve been meeting for worship in our fellowship hall in the center of our education building. I am thankful that we have this space so that we can continue to meet together, but I am sad that during this time we have gotten away from the tradition of the pastor standing by the door. It hasn’t been intentional, it’s just that there are multiple doors now, and everyone goes a different direction. The main door to our worship space isn’t the only door, and it’s not the door to the outside, just one door to the rest of the building. So I stand by a door, but not everyone comes by.
The pastor at a church we attended for many years used to say that his job was to keep standing in the door. What he meant was that he was called to pastor the people inside the church AND those outside the church, and to welcome those from the outside to come in, to find God’s love and grace. I think about that pastor’s words when I’m standing at the door. Before our sanctuary burned I would sometimes stand on the steps in front of the door to say a prayer for the neighborhood around us, and the city and its people.
Two weeks ago we began once again worshipping in our sanctuary and I am again standing by the door. Last Sunday we welcomed our neighborhood and our city and those from our past and our present and our future as we came together in our newly-renovated sanctuary to celebrate its rededication to God’s service. At the end of the service, I stood by the door and shook hands as people filed out. I’m sure some were impatient at the long line to get outside and over to the fellowship hall where a BBQ dinner was waiting, but I was thankful for the opportunity to meet people I’d heard about but never seen before, to thank friends who came through the rain from other cities and other churches, and to greet old friends.
For me, one of the great joys of my position is engaging with people, and I am thankful for all the opportunities I get to do that, including standing by the door.