Preparing Welcome as a Spiritual Practice

Photo by Ümit Bulut

Written by Susan Krehbiel, PDA’s Associate for Refugees and Asylum

Awaiting the US election results this past week, I was reminded how difficult it is to wait. In fact, a general observation of predominant American culture shows that waiting is difficult for many of us. Our advertising tells us repeatedly that we live in a time in which faster is better: fast food, touch of a button internet search results, instant gratification. For Americans, waiting is often seen as idle time, lost time, unproductive time.

Which makes it interesting that each year we joyously welcome the special point in our liturgical calendar which forces us to wait: Advent. On November 29th, the first Sunday of Advent begins four weeks of preparation for Christmas. A different type of waiting, Advent is a time of expectation of the birth of the promised one, the Messiah, our Savior. It is an in-between interval, intended for us to make space to welcome Jesus again in our lives and hearts.

Each Sunday in Advent a candle is lit to symbolize different aspects of expectation: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. With each candle, the light multiplies as a visible expression of our growing anticipation as we get nearer to Christmas Day and the birth of the Christ child. And each week, as we light these candles, we take a moment to think about the special meaning they have for us. 

Recently, the parallels between this liturgical event and faith communities interested in welcoming refugees struck me. I have often heard from pastors and church members who are organizing a Welcome Team or task force to accompany refugees that they have a hard time keeping the interest of their congregation if the wait is too long. What if we take the same posture that is in Advent and apply it to the time of waiting and preparation to welcome a refugee or asylum seeker into our midst? How might we take what seems like a long, uncertain wait and turn it into a faithful time of anticipation?

We can learn a lot from our refugee and asylum seeking partners, who know all too well what it is to continue waiting for freedom and safety. Waiting for cease fires and peace treaties, the ending of dictatorships and inhumane policies, the dawning of new democracies and the restoration of human rights. Waiting for family to be reunited. In fact, the majority of the world’s refugees live for years waiting, in anticipation, for the time when they can return home. And if returning home is not possible, waiting for the opportunity to settle in a new land, a new home. 

This Advent we invite congregations to journey with us through the season using the 4 Advent signposts—Hope, Peace, Joy and Love—both as spiritual disciplines and as a framework for concrete actions. Let’s commit ourselves to building the Welcome we want to see, both as a spiritual practice and as a form of public witness. Please help us turn a time of “idle waiting” into a time of active preparation in our congregation, in our community, and in ourselves.


3    When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
          you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4   From ages past no one has heard,
          no ear has perceived,
     no eye has seen any God besides you,
          who works for those who wait for him.

(Isaiah 64: 3-4)


What can you do?


Lunch & Learn: Join us on November 30th at 12 Noon ET for Welcoming Refugees: Preparing to Welcome, a virtual lunch and learn sponsored by Church World Service. In this session, we will discuss how to get the attention and imagination of your congregation and neighbors when the wait time for a refugee family can be long. Please register here.

Zoom Webinar: Learn about the ongoing conflict in Cameroon and Cameroonians in U.S. detention on Tuesday, November 17, 12 Noon Eastern hosted by the PCUSA Office of Public Witness. After registering in advance, you will receive a confirmation email with information about how to join.

Share resources: The Welcome Action Guide can help your Session or congregation consider what actions you can take right now.

Download the CWS Community Sponsorship Manual.

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