One of my earliest memories of Sunday School is of the warm welcome offered to me Sunday after Sunday by Bethie Pond.
As a small boy I was fearful of leaving my mother's side and going into a Sunday School room without her. But then, Bethie became my greeter, my guide and my friend.
She would meet me in the southeast foyer of the big church building and take me by the hand and go into the Sunday School room with me. Even though she was older than me, she would stay in the classroom with me and keep me company.
Bethie became my Sunday friend and I looked forward to seeing her smiling face at the top of the stairs in the foyer. She made it so much easier for this fearful little boy to leave his mother's side.
Bethie had Down Syndrome. I didn't know that about her at the time. All I knew was that Bethie was my friend and I didn't want to go to Sunday School without her.
A warm welcome works wonders in quieting our fears when entering a new place.
Sometimes we all need a greeter like Bethie.
When I was in Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, I worked at a storefront street mission. The name of the ministry was Springfield Victory Mission. It was located on the downtown square in an old shoe store.
One Sunday morning, a young man came in the door of the mission, and he was greeted warmly at the door by the pastor, Bro. Cook, who showed him to a seat. The song service had already started and so the young man sat down and listened to the music.
At the close of the morning sermon (which I preached that day), an invitation to accept Christ was given and that young man made his way to the modest altar that sat in the front of the chapel. He gave his heart to the Lord that morning.
We served a meal every day for all those who came in from the streets for the service. That morning I joined this young man at the dinner table and ate with him.
He told me his story. He was raised in a church, and had wandered away from the things of God, and ended up living on the streets. That morning he had made the decision to find a church and surrender his life to Christ. He was ready to change.
He found a church in Springfield, the one with the biggest ad in the phone book, and he set out to go and get back with God.
When he approached the front doors of the church there were two men standing there all dressed up in their Sunday best. This young man was dirty and in need of a bath. The greeters at the front doors of the church looked him up and down with a look of disgust and turned and walked into the church building, leaving him standing outside.
He decided that wasn't the place for him, so he headed towards downtown. When he got to the square he heard the music coming from the mission and peered through the window. The pastor waved him in and greeted him warmly. And that warm welcome worked wonders.
At Mt. Lebanon United Methodist, one of the churches I pastor today, we have a greeter who gives everyone who walks through the doors a warm welcome and a firm handshake.
Andrew Lane can't stand for long periods of time, so he sits in the foyer, and greets people as they come in and he hands them the morning bulletin. Andrew is friendly to everyone who walks through those doors, and he does his part to make their Sunday morning worship experience a special one.
Whether you are a greeter at church or a greeter at Walmart, remember a warm welcome works wonders. It may even change someone's life.
Doug Dezotell is the pastor of Mt. Lebanon UMC and Cannon UMC. He is a former staff writer for the Times-Gazette, and he is a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend to many. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.