Monday, September 14, 2009

God's Welcoming Committee

There were nine or ten newcomers in church yesterday, not uncommon as we start into the Fall. It tends to be a season of resolve to get reconnected with the faith community or to find a new church home.

I noticed a family of four on one side of the sanctuary and a couple on the other side who apparently knew one another because they were chatting during the "meet and greet" time following worship. It turns out that they are familiar with each other, but both households assumed that the other had been around for a while and could fill them in on St. Paul's. I was glad to see that they came back to the hall after the service because it is a challenge to come to a new church.

There was also a younger single woman in worship and she too stayed afterward. I spoke to her and she admitted that she was so nervous about coming out to church after years away that she couldn't eat breakfast. Fortunately she saw some familiar faces. I was relieved to see that all these folk were approached and welcomed by longer-standing members of the congregation.

Some people come to church for the first time and want to be known. Others are elusive, slipping out a door with amazing skill. Some feel at home immediately. Others struggle to find a place.

My years in ministry tell me that there is no sure-fire formula for creating a welcoming congregation. I have watched people get deeply involved very quickly and then disappear overnight. Then there are people who seem wary and standoffish who continue to worship and eventually get involved.

What I do know is that is it essential not to grow complacent in our life together, to realize that it is an act of courage for newcomers to show up at all. And we are God's welcoming committee.


johnny said...

One of the things I do appreciate in your service is not being told to shake hands with your neighbours. It feels contrived. I am quite happy to chat before and after services, but I feel for people who are perhaps a little shy and are suddenly told they must go around and shake hands.

Laura said...

I have gone to church my whole life, and am just as happy when the handshake tradition is omitted also. My husband, newer to church life,and less outwardly social likes it even less. It's the right message but somehow never felt quite right to me. Contrived is perhaps a good explanation.
It is a couragous act to walk through the doors the very first time..I pray we do a good job at gently welcoming all who seek.

Laura said...

Should mention though, that my "less-social" husband (see previous comment)proclaimed at lunch on Sunday how good it was to be back at St Paul's after our summer away!

Susan said...

Can I speak up for the 'hand shake or the passing of the peace'? I grew up in the church and have attended church my entire life (and I have had my 51st birthday). I have visited churches where no one has spoken to me except the minister as I left the church so having the opportunity to 'pass Christ's peace' during worship gives all the opportunity to be greeted and acknowledged. And when I am visiting a new church - I feel quite shy and hesitant so I do not move from my pew but truly appreciate those folk who acknowledge my presence and who want to extend the hand of fellowship and the gift of Christ's peace. To be honest with you, if I have not been greeted by some one in the congregation before or during worship, I will not attend coffee fellowship because why would I be treated any differently there then in the worship service.

lionlamb said...

This is what I enjoy about comments - a variety of perspectives. I have been told by people through the years that if we ever introduce a "passing of the peace" in worship they would leave the church. Others love it when they are vacationing in Florida but admit that they wouldn't want it here in rather staid Canada.

Last summer when I was on leave I attended a tiny country congregation where they had a greeting time in worship. The members dutifully said hello but not one person "chatted me up" before or after the service.

Any other perspectives?

Laurie said...

St.Paul's is a welcoming church when you first come. You are greeted and some people say hello. Where I find it falls down is the groups seem to be very closed to new people coming. For instance- the book club- people are welcome for special meetings but not for the year, U.C.W same thing. Just a thought.

lionlamb said...

Something tells me that both these groups would be glad to have new members, Laurie. But how do you know that unless the invitation is extended? A good reminder that communication is important.

bim said...

To respond to Laurie's comment,the book club had 10 members. 2 were original. I guess the others had to have joined in at some time because they wanted to.Look's good to me. If you want to be apart of groups that are happening,it is a two way street.If you want to be part of a group you have to go and find out what you have to do to join in.I myself have been a member in 10 United Church's.You have to to go and seek what you want. This past sunday a number of new people came to church and came to coffee time and regulars said hello. This is great. Like I said , it's a two way street.