Every person has formative experiences that shape her or his thought. One of mine took place at a Christian summer camp when I was fifteen. Already then I had an interest in liturgy, and had gone to this camp (called Summer Assembly) because a professor of theology was going to give a series of lectures on “Worship in Spirit and in Truth.” I ate up the lectures. At the end of the week there was to be a love feast in the evening. It seemed a fitting conclusion to the lectures.

I was the only one from my congregation at the love feast. The professor instructed the class members to divide into small groups to share the bread and cup of the love feast, the better to intensify the fellowship among the class members.

As people split up into groups, I nervously looked around for a group that would welcome me. I moved from group to group. Everyone was so involved in their intimate “fellowship,” nobody noticed the lanky kid looking for a welcome. Heartbroken, I left.

You can read this as a story of teen awkwardness, I suppose. And to be sure, I wasn’t the most socially adept teen. 😉 But the lesson I took away from that experience was that worship can exclude, can alienate. This experience helped shape my own views on the importance of welcoming the stranger, of hospitality in the liturgical assembly.