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If you need a hug, this church has a 7-year-old waiting for you

ELGIN, Okla. (BP)–People attending church on Sunday mornings typically are welcomed by men and women who offer a word of greeting, a handshake and a copy of the church bulletin.
At this 8:30 a.m. service, however, worshipers are likely to receive a warm hug and radiant smile from a young lady who has a special knack for making people feel at home at First Baptist Church, Elgin, Okla.
Seven-year-old Tori Wright hasn’t been formally trained to be a greeter. She just has the love of the Lord in her heart and a natural outgoing personality.
For a few months now, Tori has greeted worshipers who attend the early service, including many of the church’s older members who prefer the service’s traditional style over the 10:40 a.m. service’s more contemporary format.
Many times, Tori races out to the curb to offer her greetings, instead of waiting to dispense her hugs near the door of the church.
“We began with about 35 to 40 people attending the early service,” said pastor Kris Lamle. “Since Tori began greeting, our attendance has grown to average about 80 in that service each week, which is made up of about 80 percent senior adults.”
Joined by head usher Mark Deevers, also the church treasurer, and another adult greeter, Tori has “really changed the atmosphere” of the early morning service, Lamle said. “She’s just an outgoing, really pleasant little girl,” he said. “She has a very cute smile and I think she likes just about everybody.”
Tori was encouraged to become a greeter by Deevers, who has served in that capacity for some time. She was already at church for the early services because her mother, Tonya, runs the sound system and her grandfather, Raymond Huggins, is a regular attendee.
“Tori has always kind of clung to me and we became close friends,” Deevers said. “One day as we were standing there, I told her, ‘Tori, why don’t you take some of these bulletins and hand them out to the folks as they arrive and shake their hands?’
“I tell you what, instead of shaking their hands, she gave them a hug!
“With her out there, it’s just something special,” Deevers continued. “She brings out the best in those seniors. They enjoy the hug and attention she gives them. She has awakened a spark in some of those folks.”
As for Tori, she likes her new role as a greeter “because it’s a lot of fun. The best part is just meeting the people and helping them out of their cars. I hold their Bibles or purses for them when they get out.”
When she first began, Deevers would tell Tori the names of the people arriving. She would call out their names and run out to give them a hug. Now, she is beginning to learn most of their names and is, as she said, “getting the hang of it.”
Tori’s welcome is especially meaningful to visitors, although they are usually few in number at that time of day. “I think it impresses the few guests we do get,” Deevers said. “It strikes them as being unique and heartwarming that we have some young people who are eager to meet them. It’s obvious that she has a passion for greeting and meeting people and making them feel comfortable. Her gift is hospitality, for sure.”
Tori especially likes the senior adults. “I like the older people because they are really nice to me,” she said. “I see one lady at the grocery store during the week sometimes, and she always tells me one of the reasons she likes to go to church is just to see me and for me to greet her. That makes me feel very good, and to feel needed.”
In addition to greeting, Tori is interested in playing the piano, although that activity has been hampered lately because of a broken arm she suffered while playing with her older brother, Travis. She enjoys making up songs with her piano teacher. She also likes to play baseball, and is excited at the prospect of learning to play basketball.
Saved at Vacation Bible School when she was 6, Tori is faithful to complete her sermon notes sheet each week in the worship service. She is very diligent about filling in each blank and enjoys listening to Lamle talk about her Savior.
“When it’s over, I take my sheet to the pastor’s office and he gives me some candy,” she said.

Nigh is assistant editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.

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  • Bob Nigh