In the town where I grew up, there was a small white church with a cupola bell tower, something you might see on an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.”

Though I never went inside, I can vividly recall the cranberry-red trim, the brass door knocker and, most especially, a small wooden sign hammered into the little patch of grass that passed for a front lawn.

It read: “Beloved of God, Welcome.”

Those four words relayed to me that everyone was valued, everyone was welcome, and, in that little wooden church anyone could find a place of comfort and refuge and nourishment for the journey of life.

How fortunate the members of that congregation were, I thought, imagining how it must feel to be reminded on every visit that you are the beloved of God, and that you were always invited, always welcomed there with open arms.

I left my town in my twenties after I married and moved to New Jersey, but I took that sign with me, in my head and in my heart. Sadly, I would learn that not every church community understood the power of such a loving invitation or the importance of true hospitality once the door had been opened.

My own experiences at various parishes, and those shared with me by readers, often reflect an experience similar to one my son had recently on a train out of Penn Station in New York. He was traveling home with my two young grandsons. The train’s conductor was moving down the aisle asking for tickets. As each one was handed to him, he would reply, “Ok, you’re good,” and move on. When he got to my son he took the ticket and said, “Wrong train,” and just kept walking.

My son was stunned that the conductor didn’t stop, even for a few seconds, to look at him and ask if he had any questions about what he should do or offer him some suggestions on what steps to take next now that he was on the wrong train. It was obvious the conductor wasn’t the least bit interested in being available to my son in any way.

Sometimes it is uncomfortable to take a long, hard, honest look at our ability to be invitational, whether as a parish or as a follower of Christ. But such an examination is essential if we are to become who Jesus invites us to be.

Jesus had a ministry of invitation. When he said “Come and see,” He was inviting the disciples into a relation-ship, one in which He made himself available, gave of Himself and let them know they were God’s beloved children. Our parishes and their members are called to extend the invitation in the same way.

Years after leaving my childhood home, I once again found myself inspired by a small white church.  Being caught away from our house as an impending storm rapidly approached, I took shelter in an old wooden church, huddled with other parishioners as the storm whipped around the 150-year-old structure.

At that moment, the church was our safe harbor, a port in the storm. The comfort I experienced there reminded me of the comfort of knowing that when our spiritual supplies are low or we need a place of calm and rest, the parish offers sustenance in the reception of Eucharist, God’s grace in the sacraments and a family of believers ready to welcome us home before we go back out into the world to begin our journey again.

Mary Regina Morrell is a freelance writer, editor, syndicated columnist, blogger and religion consultant at Wellspring Communications: • Twitter @mreginam6

—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.