You see him walking through the back of the chapel, hair a bit messy, button-up shirt hanging over the lip of his waistline, hands in the pockets of an old pair of jeans with sneakers bleeding out of the bottoms. Maybe he looks around the room shyly, scuffing his feet on the carpet and glancing with panic from one pew to the next. Or maybe he’s glowering and marching in at the arm of a parent, looking like the last thing he wants to do is worship. You might know him, or maybe he’s a stranger. It doesn’t matter so much. Because when you see him, you shift on your bench uncomfortably.
“He shouldn’t come in here dressed like that. It’s so inappropriate,” you think, “after all, this is Sacrament Meeting. He could at least have the decency to respect that. What were his parents thinking to even allow it?”
You feel like you should say something, and you’re right. You should.
After a few moments of waiting and twiddling your thumbs, you get up and brush the lint from your skirt or dress pants, march up to him with determination, look him straight in the eyes and say, “Excuse me.”
He looks up at you, either defiant, concerned, embarrassed, or curious.
You know exactly what you need to say to him. And this is what it is:
“Welcome to church today!” Free of all pretense.
Say to him, with your hand extended, that you’re glad to see him there and mean it. Tell him your name, unless he already knows it, and then ask for his. Ask him about his family, how he’s doing, where he’s from, if he’s traveling, if he’s curious, if he’s a member. Tell him that you like his shoes, that his smile is handsome.
Tell him you’re grateful to see him, because chances are, he hasn’t been to church for awhile, and right now, he’s thinking that no one even missed him.
Look him in the eye like he’s your brother, because he is. Then try to love him like one.
I know what you may want to tell him, this boy in blue jeans. You may want to tell him that his clothes aren’t appropriate, that he needs to leave, or that he doesn’t belong. But, see, that is not your right.
It’s not your right to tell him he doesn’t belong there when the very sign on the outside of the building tells him that he does. “Visitors welcome,” it says, not “faithful members only,” not “no suits, no service,” not “keep out” or “no trespassing.” It’s the Lord’s church building, and every one of His children are allowed in. That includes non-members who have no idea what they’re doing there, out-of-towners who forgot to pack Sunday clothes and have worn the best they have, teenage girls who couldn’t wear garments beneath what they have on and even rebellious boys whose parents have had too many tearful nights, who have tried everything to get their sons to church, even if it means they come in t-shirts and denim. All of them are welcome.
It’s not your job to tell that boy in blue jeans that his clothes aren’t Sunday clothes. He already knows that. What he doesn’t know is why he should even be there, and as his brother or sister, it’s your responsibility to show him.
I know some of you are trying to do what’s best, but doing what’s best is seeing someone for who they are instead of what they wear. It’s standing in the center of a packed street and choosing to not throw stones at someone who’s sinned. It’s leaving the well-groomed company of your friends to put your hands on the scuffed faces of lepers, the poor, and the homeless, to show them that you care about them. Doing what’s best is leaving the skirts and ties of the ninety and nine to put your arm around the shoulders of the casually dressed one, and ask him, for the first time in a long time, how his life is going.
He needs to be there, and if you tell him he needs to go home and change, it may be years before he decides to make changes that actually matter.
Maybe, he’ll never want to come back again.
So, when that Sunday comes when a boy or a girl or another person walks through the chapel doors wearing blue jeans instead of a suit or a dress, when you see them and feel the need to say something to them, just love them.
That’s the one thing they need most of all.