Carol told me (!) I really ought to mention what happened when we visited the Red Robin family restaurant last week. It is near where we used to live and earlier we had dropped in pastorally to see friends nearby. Though we did not often eat in this restaurant which is large, situated near the movie theaters and always packed with children, we did occasionally visit and got to know some of the staff. Of course it was well over a year since we were last there.
Carol normally has fish and chips but asks for the fish to be grilled without batter (to avoid any allergy complications). She put the order in via our waiter - a delightful young man we did not know. The next moment the restaurant manager rushed across the densely crowded floor and flung his arms around Carol and me; reaching for a spare chair, he sat down at our table to catch up with all our news and share his own. Apparently, as soon as he heard the order for fish without batter he shouted across to the server: 'Are Carol and Michael back?' before charging across to see for himself. In the pandemonium of a full restaurant and birthday celebrations, he gave us undivided attention with phenomenal recall about my cancer, the family and seminary. The waitress who used to serve us realized we were there too, and gave us the warmest of hugs (several times). At least three times the manager snatched time with us (once bringing extra fish for Carol).
Carol said to me: 'What a difference it makes when you receive a welcome like this!' Then she paused and added, 'That's how the church should behave - to greet and accept people like you really mean it!' Then to cap it all, on Sunday we visited the church where I was Summer interim two years ago in Elmhurst. We heard a challenging sermon based on Romans 15:7 'Greet one another as Christ has accepted you, for the glory of God'. Before the service even began two pastors had hugged us after a year's absence and the warmth of welcome flooded across afterwards. Of course, Carol had to tell the senior pastor all about Red Robin!
It's true that the quality of greeting goes far beyond a 'Hi' with a smile. Peter Semeyn in his sermon dared to take a recent survey of the church showing it is 91% white, 90% married and 79% college degree or higher and then challenge the church directly about greeting those unlike the majority. He was prophetic in his challenge, because it is easier for a restaurant manager to greet some English folk than it is for many of us in church to get close to others. But Carol is right. We were taught a great lesson by Red Robin.