The Power of a Hug

And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:47 NIV)

Our last pastor was a hugger. Every week he stood at the open church door after the closing hymn and welcomed each person who passed through with a heartfelt, personalized hug. The line was always long and slow-moving as nearly everyone was eager for their turn to be blessed. I am ashamed to say at times I groused at how long it took for the congregation to be processed through, but I was as motivated as anyone for my free hug. I suspect I am not alone in saying that more often than I care to say, other than the occasional handshake, this was the only physical contact I had with another human all week long. Some of us were widows or widowers (for our pastor didn’t shy away from offering his hugs universally to men and women alike), some of us were in a transitional phase between relationships, or worse yet, I imagine there were even those among us who poured out their love all week long, receiving little or nothing in return. Whatever the case, we all appreciated the mission this young man was on to improve the quality of our lives, if only for a passing moment.

Our church no longer has the benefit of this young minister serving among us, but I have noticed an uptick in the warmth within our congregation as we struggle to fill the void left by his absence. Last Sunday I witnessed an outpouring of welcome I doubt I would have seen prior to our young minister’s tenure. A man who was clearly down on his luck was drawn into a warm, inviting hug by one of our ushers. This brought to mind our pastor’s message to indiscriminately welcome others into our midst who don’t fit into our mold. While we have never given outsiders a chilly reception, we are guilty of being somewhat reserved. Our pastor’s example exposed our need to be more inclusive. I suspect losing him jolted us out of our complacency. 

The best leaders do so by example and their influence is a ripple effect that bears witness of them long after they are gone. Sometimes their methods are unconventional and go against tradition, but if we follow their lead of offering comfort wherever we see that it is needed, we will be drawing from the best within ourselves and in God’s world this behavior will not go unrewarded.

Dear Lord, Help us to broaden our reach and offer your warmth to those we may consider to be outsiders, not only as a church but on a personal level as well. Amen.

Carol (NC)