Last week in Ward Council, our bishop used a phrase that perfectly described what we can provide for tormented souls who come into our wards: Soft landings. The world provides the sorrow, the grief, the loss and disappointment; we can be there with open arms to help and heal as best we can. Raw with hurt and pain, members often find themselves in a congregation where they dont know a single person. They may even be in a new part of the world where nothing seems familiar.
Some people arrive not wearing what some might consider proper attire. Others come tenuously, unsure if they will be accepted. Singles often see only happy couples. Soldiers come with harsh memories. Addicts wonder if anyone will understand their battle over substances. Still others come with baggageperhaps even amidst unfortunate rumors and gossip.
And there we are. How do we embrace these strangers? Ive seen a variety of reactions. It saddens me when a person who doesnt “fit the mold” sits alone on the back row, not greeted by a single person. Or worsewhen someone is made to feel unwelcome by a thoughtless comment or a disapproving glance.
Many members are busy with young children. Others have a comfortable routine, a secure circle of friends, a support system. Its easy to visit with the same people, plan get-togethers with our relatives, and enjoy those happy connections. But these same strings of attachment often exclude the new person. They feel overlooked because they are overlooked.
Often we have no idea the inner battle that raged before a person chose to come to church. Maybe it took every ounce of courage they could muster, to walk through those doors. Maybe theyre testing the waters to see how this visit goes before they commit to another. Maybe they already regret being here.
And how wonderful it is when someone rushes up to greet them, shake their hand and welcome them. Just catching their eye and smiling can be huge. How it warms my heart when I see people cluster around to welcome the new person and get to know them. This is truly implementing Christs teachings, and being our brothers keeper.
At various times in our lives we all feel as if we are tumbling from storm clouds, falling to earth and hoping we dont shatter upon impact. How wonderful would it be if members could rally, hold the corners of a blanket, and catch us! Not care who we are, what has happened, or why were suffering, but just reach out to us, and bring us into the fold. Every one of us is a sinner, and every one of us needs soft landings.
What will it be like when we die and pass through the veil? Someoneor several someonesmight escort us, or so it seems from the conversations we observe as someone nears that portal and talks with unseen visitors. We certainly wouldnt want to walk into the next life and stand there, alone and confused. Even if we arent correctly dressed, or as obedient to every commandment as someone else, we all hope well be embraced by loved ones who are happy to see us.
Entering any new situation is exactly the same: We fear the unknown and we all want to connect and feel loved. So lets try something. What if we gave ourselves unofficial callings as greeters? What if we decide to be the happy escort who welcomes the newcomer into what may not be heaven, but just may be a little slice of it? Shouldnt church feel like a refuge from the world? Shouldnt this be the happiest place on earth (apologies to Disneyland)? We can do it. We can see each new arrival as the precious child of God that they really are, and give them the welcome each of us would want: A warm handshake. A friendly smile. A soft landing.
You can find Hiltons books at jonihilton.com. She is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills.
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.