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I have watched them coming back, filing from the parking lot like refugees returning to a long-abandoned home. They move through church foyers and hallways with furtiveness well learned from two years of hiding behind masks and social distancing. No one—not pastors, greeters, even longtime friends— is fully trusted yet, for this strange season has persuaded us that other humans are the greatest threat to our existence. 

Where once we feared the mushroom cloud, or galloping inflation, or society’s long slide toward amorality and disintegration, we’ve learned in 24 short months to fear each other—even well-intentioned others. Who knows what unmasked moments may yield? 

We sit in clusters that seem safe, like sculptures carved to fit the pews. No hands across the nearby pews; few hugs; no unnecessary talk. We rise for hymns and kneel for prayers with nothing like our former zeal. The music dies upon our lips, as if it is unseemly to be singing of a God of light and color after two long years of gray. A weighted blanket rests on all, suppressing what we once described as joyousness in Jesus. Few babies cry: young families are still missing from the gathering. 

In 60 years of watching fellow Adventists in church, I’ve never seen the like of it, even in our moments of great loss or tragedy. Where once a remnant people huddled close to find what warmth and joy they could, we now make do with showing up— hoping in our heart of hearts that some small piece of God’s good truth might light a fire or warm a hymn. 

Which makes this moment exactly the one in which the gospel must be heard—the everlasting good news that long predated this pandemic and will be told when all this pain is mercifully forgotten. Hearts grown cold from fear and loss will only warm when we decide to tell each other once again the well-worn stories of hope and love— how Jesus came into this darkened world with music in His heart and healing in His hands. This is the hour—for sometimes, that’s all the window we have—to trace His kindness toward His enemies; His deep compassion for those lost without a shepherd; His unrelenting interest in the ones He termed “the least of these.” We need to hear again that God’s first attribute is love—that all our brokenness is met by grace that does not alter when He alteration finds: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). 

This isn’t a responsibility only for the preachers, for they are living this strange time as well. 

Their hearts are not the fonts of optimism we frequently imagine, for they have seen the losses of these years on larger and collective scales. They’ve buried friends and longtime leaders; wept with desperate, grieving families; and worried for their spouses and their children. They’ve asked themselves a dozen times if they should do this painful work or seek the solace of some simpler job. The gospel we expect them to share from the pulpit is the same gospel we must share with them at the door—the Word of affirmation; the gratitude for caring; the stories of fears overcome; of sins forgiven; and the enduring power of hope. 

A new covenant awaits our full endorsement—a deep calling to companionship, to holding on, to staying with, to gently weaving once again the fabric of community so tattered by the last two years. The post-pandemic church of Jesus won’t rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix just because the worst of times may now be over. It will require intentional re-tellings of the gospel; arms reaching out to re-embrace; a deep forgiveness born of grace for those who have offended us through these contentious months. 

Nothing in the last 2,000 years has ever stopped the gospel. Nothing ever will. 

After a dozen years, 600 weekly GraceNotes, and perhaps 100,000 words, old friends will ask me, “Where do you find new things to say about grace?"

And I smile and tell them, “This is my lab, my practice room, where every week I think about the love that changed my life and brings me joy.”

What began as text messages to 60 friends now reaches hundreds of thousands—by email, podcast, Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, on major Christian radio networks, and yes, still by text. GraceNotes have moved to French and Arabic; friends translate and distribute them in Russian, Spanish—and who knows how many other languages?

Like the grace of Christ which inspired them, GraceNotes are “open source.” Use them, share them, forward them to friends, or send them halfway ‘round the world—these short meditations are meant to remind us all that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8, NRSV).

You can subscribe to GraceNotes at www.moregracenotes.com, or listen to the Audiogram version on the Facebook “GraceNotes” page: www.facebook.com/More-GraceNotes.


Bill Knott is executive editor and director of Adventist Review Ministries.

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Back when the house was new and oaks were twigs, some kindly soul planted daffodils to mark the margin of my yard. But 50 years of blackberry canes and luxuriant poison ivy vines have largely hidden their good deed—except in March, when winter’s grip is finally loosed, and hope returns with every warbler.

I’m always much surprised by daffodils—the greening shoots, the swelling buds—for I have come to assume the lasting grip of sleet and snow and frigid tem- peratures. But there they are—so green, so vibrant yellow, so unmistakable among the last of last year’s fallen leaves.

And I remind myself each March that slow warmth always wins the day, despite the Sturm und Drang of what seems endless winter.

It is a memory I much need when I survey the winter of my church. From where I sit, I watch the ice accumulating on the branches as the love of many grows cold (Matt. 24:12). The power lines are often down; and Spiritless, we wait for light—and kindness—to return. The howl of biting , windblown rhetoric arrives in each day’s inbox. Vilify, condemn, attack—the arsenal of icicles is launched across the little continents on which we camp.

And God’s good people get discouraged, sinking into grim survival mode, turning back from mission and from ministry for

fear they might be targeted themselves. A dull, persistent fatalism that “awfulizes” everything hangs like a freezing fog. “I’ll go to church,” we finally say, but then sink back upon the couch to watch the worship on our screens. “It may not yet be safe out there,” we add, even when the COVID rates are dropping everywhere. “I’ll wait till this is over.”

Too many are not coming back, not because of masks or mandates, but because they sense that the winter of our dis- content is not yet done, is not yet past. Each congregation’s foyer has its partisans who bring the virus of their politics or personal theology into what should be a place of safety and of sanctuary. And when what’s preached is not good news, when nagging and finger-wagging become the stuff of sermons, the impulse to return gets chilled.

But, trust me, slow warmth will yet win the day, despite the recent weather. “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”* is working every- where, persistently, and even when we fail to notice. The Spirit never leaves the church alone or in the cold. Each time the Word is opened faithfully; each time the gospel is proclaimed; every moment when we lay aside our cold conspiracies to offer kindness and support, the kingdom gains; the kingdom grows. New life appears—all green, all vibrant—through the miracle of grace. And baptistries get filled with water and with warmth. Foyers flood with hugs and openheartedness. The Spir- it’s passion blossoms in the church, and we prepare for new and better Pentecosts.

I can see the spring arriving in my yard. And with the second sight of faith, I see the spring arriving for my church. The day is not far distant when the partisans will lose their audience, when those who would divide Christ’s body will melt into deserved obscurity. There will be confessions, even tears, as Jesus’ warmth dissolves the ice we’ve grown familiar with. Feet will be washed; humility will sprout; and all our wintry inwardness will yet surrender to a greening, growing fellowship of witness and of worship.

This is no fantasy, no Pollyanna moment. Remind yourself of Peter’s springtime sermon:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

Bring that day.

*The first line of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ well-known poem.

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His words are half-remembered, pulled from many years ago, and mixed with images of crew cuts, lemonade, and riding my tricycle down the sloping driveway of our East Texas home.

The Adventist deacon described a morning years before when his father took him to a lynching—to where an unconvicted Black man hung from an oak deep in the woods, his body pierced by bullet holes. There was no sadness in the tale, nor was I supposed to feel any. This was the way things were.

Two thousand miles away, and well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I learned that another Adventist relative had once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan—“back when it was good,” or so the teller implied. And I recalled my relative’s great affinity for guns, for country, and for Whiteness. This was the way things were.

Not once, but twice the February worship services at the campus church my family attended were disrupted by bomb threats called in to stop Black History Sabbaths. We scattered in the biting February wind, aware that there were those within our church—our congregation—who hated what this Sabbath meant, who sought to bar the door, refuse an entrance; fueled by spite. This was the way things were.

I was too White and too naive to understand the day George Wallace was shot and permanently disabled by an assassin’s bullet in the city where I now live. The young Black woman at the reception desk pushed down the intercom “Talk” button and told the news excitedly to the Adventist dormitory. A circle of rejoicing filled the dorm: their oppressor had been taken out. The world looked hopeful suddenly, as if a liberation might be theirs when racist Pharaoh toppled over.

And there is more—a lifetime of unlearning attitudes my Adventist White culture wanted me to know—behind the hand; behind the door; the muttered anger at the “they ” and “them” who now were “welcomed” to the table. Why did administrators spit their venom when committee rooms were emptied, when they felt sure they couldn’t be heard?

Did I seem “safe” to racists because I listened to their bursts of anger and of privilege? Should I have called them out for failing to obscure their prejudice?

And what goes unacknowledged in my soul, the deeply subtle ways of framing what it means to be Christ’s body, His community? How do I get new eyes, new attitudes; a heart of flesh and not of unresponsive stone? When will I see as Jesus sees—without a different valuing; with conscious love, and paying full attention?

We will be practicing these skills until that day when Jesus breaks the barriers of cloud— and color—to weld a willing remnant into one gracious, strong , and egoless community. There, all will serve and all will reign, dissolving every rank and status. We will be welcomed to a table where grace makes all of us one people: the banquet will be spread for those of every hue and language and experience. “Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:29, 30, NRSV).

But that day never comes— and it has already tarried for a while—until we yield, we bend; until we wash another’s feet. Unlearning is the hardest thing we do, but Jesus still commands it. “Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’ ” (Luke 9:23, NRSV).

I’m reaching for the basin and the towel. Will you?

Imagine, if you will, that all the stories of Adventism are represented by three brilliant clusters of blue, red, and yellow helium balloons—the kind that set our childish hearts to throbbing when we glimpsed them at the county fair or at a corner vendor in the city.

The blue cluster, arrayed against a backdrop of billowing cumulus clouds, are all the Founders’ stories. They feature the first and second generation of Adventist leaders, men (almost always) of Anglo, Nordic, or Germanic stock who sailed seas, launched colleges, and planted congregations in previously unentered lands. We know these narratives so well that they have now achieved a kind of mythic status: remember when William Miller prayed in the maple grove beside his home, or Joseph Bates once fell into the Erie Canal? And certainly you know how Ellen White helped pick the site for what is now Loma Linda University, and Andrews University, and Oakwood University. We tell these stories for good reason: they are our stories of beginning.

The red balloons are stories we have only begun to see in the last 30 years—the stunning tales of women, people of color, and those who worked a century ago in urban missions or the high reaches of Bolivia’s Altiplano. Their names and briefer versions of their deeds sometimes appear in archived versions of the Adventist Review, or even in books long out of print. Who knew that the champion literature evangelist in North America a century ago was a formerly enslaved Black woman who couldn’t read the volumes she sold to White Southerners? When did you last hear of those who served the church’s outposts in Mongolia, Iraq, and Ecuador before the global disaster of the Second World War? Their stories have been mercilessly reduced to “mentions” in our narratives of “greats,” for their color or their gender or their absence from leadership roles made their stories unworthy of keeping in our official narrative.

Our children and our grandchildren deserve a fuller story than we learned.

The yellow balloons are those of everyday Adventists whose names were never mentioned in this journal, and whose descendants didn’t go on to found colleges, plant sanitariums, or march in mission pageants. Though their faithful tithe and prayer and personal witnessing built everything we have, they usually didn’t “work for the church,” get elected as delegates to General Conference Sessions, or have their names engraved upon a donor plaque in an institutional hallway. And yet we can know much about their lives—if we want to. We can reconstruct the typical experience of Adventist herders in the hills of Tanzania or of laborers in Singapore—what their average income was; how they transported products to the markets; what opportunities they had to educate their children and hold their families together—all while waiting for the blessed hope of Jesus’ second coming. These are the unacknowledged millions of believers—men and women whose stories never took flight.

Tell me now: which cluster of balloons is the truth about Adventism in the last 190 years? Why is it that the skies above us—where winds circulate the stories we want to fly—are mostly filled with only blue, punctuated by an occasional red? Why have we failed to tell the stories that don’t easily fit our founding paradigm—a narrative that privileges Whiteness and English and church leadership positions?

The beautiful bouquet of faith—the glorious admixture of yellows, reds, and blues, and all the colors they create—will yet take flight, God willing. Our children and our grandchildren deserve a fuller story than we learned. The truth about our past is multi-hued, multi-racial, and multi-lingual.

And when we learn one day whom heaven has considered great, we will all be in for a grand surprise—a celebration where a great diversity of balloons will fly above the corners of that city “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Bring that day.

When we tell the story of this unimaginable year to our children or our grandchildren in the months and years to come, we will grope for words to summon all its dark, disruptive power.

“It was as if a giant blanket suddenly descended on the world,” we will say to all the little faces, “and no one could do what they normally used to do. We couldn’t drive to Grandma and Grampa’s house for fear of making them sick. Daddy (or Poppa) couldn’t go to work because it wasn’t safe to be mixing with the people he usually works with. Mommy couldn’t teach schoolchildren in a classroom: everyone had to do all their learning online. Recess and the playground and going to Little League games all disappeared.”

And they will say to us what children always do when they have heard an unbelievable tale: “Is that a true story? Or did you just make that up?”

Imagining how we will tell the story of 2020 to the children we love brings us to two immediate conclusions.

1 This has been a year like none in living memory.

Seventy percent of the nations of the world have been dramatically affected by the corona­virus. More than a million residents of the planet have succumbed to a mysterious disease that has no end in sight. The combined forces of national governments, international health organizations, and millions of safe-distancing and mask-wearing individuals have not eradicated a scourge that many of us were certain would be a fading memory before Christmas.

Adventists, of all people, must resist the siren song of fatalism.

Huge swaths of the global economy have been devastated—communication, travel, industrial production, and education. Hundreds of millions of people have lost jobs, lost income, or lost what little they had stashed away for the proverbial “rainy day.” It has been raining for eight months already.

Environmental disasters—fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes—have eaten into what little security we have left.

It is right to grieve the losses of this year.

2 There will be a day when all of this is over.

A clear-eyed, candid look at all this year has brought us shouldn’t cause a people living by the Word to pull the house down about their ears or hide beneath the cellar stairs. While we may have previously been sleepily optimistic about the days ahead, there’s an equal and opposite danger that we will now “awfulize” the future, and dismiss all signs of normalcy and recovery as outliers to a plunging downward trend. As surely as successful vaccines will be found and schools resumed, and we will once again be able to assemble freely for fellowship and worship, there will come a corresponding temptation to huddle and to cringe at every bit of troubling news for fear we are beginning 2020 all over again.

Adventists, of all people, must resist the siren song of fatalism that would cause our mission and our purpose to wreck upon the rocks. Either Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17),* as the apostle Paul asserts, or we and all this movement stands for are but windswept leaves upon a dark and wild ocean.

There is a Lord who stands above this storm, and any other one that comes, who will not let a world He still loves go unwarned, unvisited, or unloved—by us and by His Spirit. God asks His fearful people, “Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?” (Isa. 50:2). In your heart, you know the answer.

In this season of both scarcity and abundance, adversity and small contentments, we may yet offer deep thanksgiving for the knowledge that everything we experience is known to Him and matters deeply to Him. William Cowper’s wondrous, faithful hymn, written more than two centuries ago, reads like tomorrow’s headline:

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.”


* Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

The first snowfall of October is dusting the cedars Jack planted as she awakens on Sabbath morning.

As she has done for eight years now, she reaches out to gently touch the pillow where he slept for 43 years. A tiny gesture of remembrance and grief, it’s one of many that will fill her seventh day. “If he were here,” she muses, “I’d smell the cinnamon buns he made each Friday afternoon.”

By 9:10, she is dressed for church, though the 2006 Ford Taurus won’t move from the garage again this week, the twenty-ninth Sabbath in a row. She settles into the office chair in the living room: as always, she’s the first one in the Zoom waiting room for Sabbath School. Soon, the familiar “ping” of arriving friends populates her screen and her heart. She’ll still be here, pouring love and laughter into the monitor until the last pre-recorded hymn of the worship service fades at 12:30, lingering in the community of young families, teenagers, children, and senior citizens who gather online.

“There’s another quality that’s often overlooked in our collective vision of the future.”

Here is the patience of the saints.

* * *

Elijah races through repairing the last battered television of Friday afternoon, eyeing the declining sun through bent antennas of a unit that may bring his boss 3000 Kenyan shillings.

His mind is leaping forward to the happy routines of Sabbath preparation: the six-kilometer bicycle trip to home; the herding of three siblings—5, 8, and 9—under the cold-water pump in the backyard for their Sabbath bath; the comforting routine of maize and rice—with bananas—that marks each Friday night.

At 17, he’s older brother, father, mother to a family devastated by AIDs and alcohol. The vision of a university degree in bioengineering that briefly flickered is long gone. Until his brother and two sisters are grown, he will be repairing televisions.

But there is still the AY group—28 Adventist teens who gather on their smartphones Friday nights to sing and laugh and pray and study the book of Daniel. This is, no doubt, the highlight of his week—the place where for a moment he is 17 again, and hopeful.

He slips the headphones on and settles into the aging armchair beside where Tumaini, Akeyo, and Makena dream.

Here is the patience of the saints.

* * *

Our heritage as Adventists reminds us forcefully of the qualities required to survive the prophesied calamities of the end-time. Faithfulness to Scripture; keeping Sabbath in our hearts and in our calendars; saying “no” to Babylon’s seductions in all its forms, in all its pleasantries—these are the watchwords of our chosen identity, the markers of our DNA.

But there’s another quality that’s often overlooked in our collective vision of the future, perhaps because it seems banal, unsung, and unremarkable.

We discount the “patience of the saints” the same way we walk past bargain bins at Walmart or delete the breathless retail messages that clutter up an inbox. Of course we must be patient, we conclude, for what choice do we have? It’s either patience or departure, endurance or apostasy.

But in the always-seeing mind of God, patience is the virtue that fits us best for heaven, the demonstration we have placed our trust in things unseen and truths we cannot touch.

Babylon is all about arranging futures for ourselves—in wealth, in pleasures, and in righteousness. The patience of the saints is what the choir of heaven celebrates and just what Jesus most desires for us; for it’s the clearest sign that we have left our schemes and foolish dreams and settled into Christ.

So here’s to all who wait with quietness and faith—to all the grieving and the lonely; to those who bear great burdens with great grace and heaven’s fortitude; to all who light our days with hope that gets us through the nights.

The future—and the kingdom—will be yours.

For more than 40 years, I’ve used a singular expression to mark the Bible verses, the pointed insights, and the maxims I wished never to forget: “I have written it on the walls of my life.”

Little did I know when joining the Adventist Review team 23 years ago that the metaphor of writing on the walls would one day cease to be only a metaphor—that I would actually be writing freely, even expansively, on the long east wall of our conference room. An enterprising member of our team some years ago painted the entire surface with “whiteboard paint,” immediately turning it into a giant “think-pad” of sorts, where staff members work out article ideas, themes, advertising campaigns, finances, and the occasional “Happy Birthday” message.5 1

Fifteen months ago, as we were planning “The Church I Want to Belong To” series that concludes with this September edition, the wall was covered with dozens of adjectives as team members called out the qualities and commitments that make them passionate about the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Hours of discussion, prayer, and even debate ensued as we honed the challenging bon mots from more than 70 to a specific list. Each themed statement—“The Church I Want to Belong to Is . . .“—was explored in sub-themes, curated articles, essays, commentaries, illustrations, and infographics. Perhaps never before in the 171-year history of this journal has there been such a sustained focus on the essential characteristics of the remnant church of Bible prophecy.

Suffusing all the adjectives written on the wall was a pervasive sense of hope—of aspiration. These 15 adjectives are “both now and not yet”—realities we have tasted just enough to hunger for their fuller expression in this movement we love.

Thank you for the privilege of stirring your thinking as ours has been stirred—for allowing us to lift up a vision of a faithful, diverse, and united body of believers in the three angels’ messages who live with clarity and passion toward the soon coming of Jesus.

Write these words on the walls of your life.

It is the age of braggadocio, and we are never sure whether to laugh incredulously at all the empty posturing, or weep for all we’ve lost—like modesty and grace.

The airwaves crackle with boasts that only yesterday were deemed unspeakably preposterous. Politicians, athletes, entertainers and 3-year olds stare unblinkingly at us and say what ego always wants to say: “I am the best. There is none like me.”

And so we fault poor parenting, big salaries, and omnipresent television cameras for coarsening the culture, for reducing the humility we once admired to what gets said by those who finish second or clutch congeniality awards. When “man is the measure of all things,” we quickly see how cheap and tawdry all things seem. Our beach is overrun by surging hubris, and we ache for understatement; graciousness; the self-control that can allow another to go first.

We are building counterculture here.

Cue the church—the one place left on Planet Earth where humility still finds a home, a resting place, a value. The founding ethic of this community Jesus built deplores the boast, the taunt, the cruel jest. It prizes anonymous deeds of kindness only heaven sees; values tender words that rebuild broken hearts; urges service to the ones the world tramples and forgets. The church of Jesus is, by definition, a sanctuary for losers—for all the mixed-up, broken men and women who may never stand atop an earthly podium, but whose permanent, ineradicable value is enshrined in the heart of God. He gathers in, He said, the poor, the disabled, the dispossessed, and sets them at His banquet table (Luke 14:21). And so must we.

That’s just the reason we must always guard the way we think and speak about Christ’s church. Against the tide of endless chatter about performance, personalities, and politics borrowed from the culture, we can say aloud—again—that those who advertise themselves are selling what we do not want. We should set a guard for narcissists who flatter us with words designed to bring them glory. We can find the godly resolve to say “No” when leaders take the credit for the harvest God has ripened—those who build their résumés and reputations on all the selfless acts a hundred thousand saints have quietly performed.

This is a time for telling different stories than the ones our culture roars. We are building counterculture here, a wall against a corrosive tide of arrogance and self-assertion, and evidence suggests that we can’t labor fast enough. Our pulpits should preach patience and hiddenness, of seeds that grow in secret, and of a Father who watches even sparrows fall. We need more lessons about the uneconomical searching for lone lost sheep, instead of smugly counting those within the stadium or fold. Our kids can learn that no external sticky star can ever match the inner prize of knowing that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).*

It requires collective courage to insist on these things, and to build again within this movement the habits—strategies—for making certain that “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” take root, grow up, set flowers, and bear fruit (Gal. 5:22, 23). Not only is there no law against such things: there’s a positive commandment that we cherish them. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

Humility is not an accidental virtue we acquire casually along the way. If it is ever true that we are humble, individually or as a people, it will be because we speak of it and preach of it and underline it as a virtue we insist on—“encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).

Because this is the call of Christ to all who are members of His body, the church I want to belong to is . . . humble.


* Bible texts in this article are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

It’s still one of the oddest welcomes I’ve ever had at church.

After weekends of intense speaking appointments, I had settled into what was supposed to be a quiet Sabbath attending a “family church”—one of the congregations in New England where relatives regularly worship. There was no heightened sense of tension as the sun declined on Friday; no leaping out of bed to study sermon notes when birdsongs woke me in the morning. This was a Sabbath “off.”

As I walked from the parking lot to the front door of the church, however, I met the pastor hurrying toward his car. “They’re going to ask you to preach this morning,” he laughed as he swept past.

None come to ride the hobbyhorses of rigid members who patrol the foyer.

A joke, I thought—a harmless tease from a colleague who knew I had no plans to be “on duty.”

At the door, however, I stopped grinning. The local elder gripped my hand with all-too-earnest sincerity.

“We need you to preach this morning, Pastor,” he said, staring deeply into my relaxed soul. “The pastor has to go to another congregation.”

Still uncomprehending, I stammered through my questions. “But I just saw the pastor: why isn’t he preaching? What emergency called him away?”

Moments passed as I grappled with the unwelcome news. I could feel the tension climbing up my spine and settling in my shoulders. A glance at my watch spun me back toward my car, mind racing, irritated, losing all my “Sabbath blessing.”

Twenty minutes to drive to where I was staying; 20 minutes to find and print notes from a sermon I had preached two weeks earlier; 20 minutes back to church.

And so an hour later I was seated where I didn’t want to be—on the platform—staring out at dozens of smiling people who never knew about the drama.

I sputtered all that afternoon to any family member who would listen, and told the story twice to colleagues in my office. The episode “rattled” me far more than many other times when I’ve been asked to preach on little or no notice.

It all comes down to expectations, I concluded—mine, and yours, and those of every person walking through the doors of an Adventist church. It was the mismatch between what I had imagined would happen and what actually unfolded that enhanced my “irritation quotient.”

And so it is for many others who find their moments in the remnant church off-putting and uncomfortable. Some come seeking a sanctuary—a quiet, uninterrupted hour of reflection and devotion after days of conflict and commotion. Others come from homes where television and the cat are all the company they have. None come to ride the hobbyhorses of rigid members who patrol the foyer, offering agendas.

There’s never just one type of “visitor,” nor just one way to make them feel welcome. It takes the best we have—wise, warm, and loving people—to identify what guests may need, and show the grace of thoughtful hospitality. Some greetings require many words; others need only a few. Those we ask to be the face of our fellowship must be the other-centered, mature Christians who match their welcome to the need. Just as the cover of this magazine is designed to make you glad to open it, so those who are the “cover” of our congregations must be believers with high “EQ”—emotional intelligence—and not just those who volunteer.

Our mission to become a safe and healing community for those whom the Spirit is calling begins with a plan to prioritize the role of those who first meet the public for us.

That’s why the church I want to belong to is . . . welcoming.