When I went off to college, in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeast Georgia, I was in need of a temporary church home. Hours from my family, it wasn’t feasible for me to travel every weekend, so a couple of new friends and I started a rotation of attending the small churches in the area.
For weeks I felt like Goldilocks, one congregation seemed too small, another too big, etc. until coming across a lively all black congregation in the next town over.
The congregation was warm and welcoming with passionate sermons from the pulpit and, of great importance to poor college students, a Southern-style home cooked meal every Sunday afternoon.
I remember vividly our first visit to the church. Myself and three other Caucasian women shyly snuck into the back row after the service had begun. Looking around, there were smiling faces dressed in bright colored hats and gloves, simple adornments on the walls and engaged parishioners. As we settled in, wondering if this would be the church home for us for the next four years, the minister, mid sermon, stopped to welcome us. He exclaimed, “Welcome! It is good to finally have some color in our church!” Realizing he meant us, we blushed while those in the pews ahead of us turned around to see what he meant.
While this could have been off putting to some, it was a welcome icebreaker for us. After the service, folks lined up to greet us, inviting us to lunch and Bible study. Walking out that afternoon, we found ourselves laughing and looking forward to the next Sunday.
For the next four years, in between studies, sporting events, and trips home, I continued to attend services and Bible study at this refuge. Some of my classmates were confused by this choice. As a former “Air Force Brat”, I felt more comfortable in diverse settings than some of my peers. When I attended high school on Edwards Air Force base in southern California, white students were in the minority. Until my father retired, I assumed this was the norm.
Now, living in Wyoming, I miss the diversity that living on base and living in the south provided. Ironically, it isn’t very often that residents of the “Equality State” see folks who look different from us at work, play or in church. Still, in this time of New Year resolutions, goal setting and dreams of acceptance, I want to encourage my neighbors to reach out to people who look, sound, or act different than what we are use to. Don’t let fear and misunderstanding stop you from experiencing the love of Christ in powerful ways.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech spoke passionately of equality, justice, love and the glory of the Lord. He exclaimed, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together’.”
Like King, I also have a dream. My prayer is for congregations to embody the love of Christ and welcome people of all race, heritage, origin, language, occupations, sexual orientation, religion and age. We should do this with compassion and empathy as Jesus taught us that “all are welcome” in his embrace.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; Here the love of Christ shall end divisions; All are welcome, all are welcome. All are welcome in this place.
– First verse to All Are Welcome by Marty Haugen
Trey Sherwood is the Director of the Laramie Main Street Alliance, a non-profit organization focused on economic development, historic preservation and community building. Sherwood is a volunteer dog trainer at Rockin’ E and she serves on the committee for the Laramie Mural Project, Laramie’s Public Art Plan, TELC’s Campus Ministry and is a board member of the Wyoming State Historical Society and a graduate of Leadership Wyoming.