As a person of faith, I regularly question my intentions of welcoming the stranger. It is a simple question we all must ask when we navigate the world around us. Am I welcoming the people I don’t look like, don’t talk like, don’t love like, don’t live like, don’t sound like?
In this era of novel coronavirus and COVID-19, it is harder than ever to appear welcoming to others. As we mask up and hide much of our face, so much of how we welcome others is hidden. No one can see my smile or my frown of sadness or my pursed lips in frustration. Part of my way to welcome is gone. It takes a special effort to say audibly “hello” or wave as we attempt to connect.
Immigration has been the focal point for many policies since the 2016 election. I do not support the immigration stance of our current federal administration. As a spiritual person, I cannot approve of separating families, caging children and making the immigration process more difficult to traverse.
My spirit says it is time to grant an extravagant welcome to everyone who seeks a place of safety, freedom, liberty and hope. Yet, in the midst of the tragic times we are living in with a virus raging among us, the infighting of our political systems, the racist bigotry we perpetuate, a faltering economy — is anyone running to be welcomed in this country?
Figures published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) show a steep decline of approximately 900,000 fewer petitions seeking entry into the U.S. from 2017–2019. The USCIS is self-funding — it makes its money from these fees. The current administration has halted green card applications and barred entry by foreigners.
How can we welcome the stranger who cannot get to us? How can we be satisfied with no one to welcome? The heart of what I believed America to be was welcoming to the stranger. Today my heart aches for those who are unable to come to the land which once had such promise. They must be desperate in a way I have never known to consider coming here as their refuge. As I contemplate my own existence here, in this land of promise and plenty, I ask where did the promise go and why can’t we get the plenty where it needs to be this day?
As arms are empty with no one to hug as visitors to my house of faith, we have learned to live this virtual existence in ways never dreamed. Virtual connection replacing most of what we’ve known — even church. We’ve become Zoom experts overnight to only find an emptiness in connecting with people virtually. We are beginning to forget our neighbor’s faces, our family’s favorite meals to share, what it is like to go to a party. In the quest for being a radical welcome to the stranger, we must realize there are thousands who would love to be here with us but can’t — even in the midst of a pandemic. Now we wait for them — prayerfully and patiently.
My always ready and welcoming smile waits behind the mask I wear.
Rev. Collis Floyd is a former pastor of New Faith Metropolitan Community Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. and is also a seminarian at Luther Seminary.