As my current church meets on Sunday evenings, I have found my Sunday mornings free and what should I dowith free Sunday mornings, but learn more about church. So I had set out to visit various denomenations. My thought was attending a service would provide me with experiental lessons that I could then suppliment with reading material. It's not that I am planning on changing denomenations. Rather I believe that opening the channels of communication cross-denomenationally is what will enable the family of God to thrive through the 21st century. In order to open my mind and better understand a larger cross section of the family of God, I figured I should visit a diverse cross section of denomenations.
I began last week as St Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church . The architecture and design of the church was familiar and comfortable. It reminded me of the little Anglican building my church in England met in. Then Reverend Phil intoduced himself to me and that began a morning full of warm welcomes, sincere interest, and a wonderful level of genuine hospitality. A student of mine ran over and welcomed me with a hug, then declared she would sit with me, before scampering off to let her grandma know. The four women sitting in front of me introduced themselves and we chatted casually. It was the perfect medium. They didn't ask me twenty questions, nor did they say hi and then go back to their own conversations. Then two of the ladies got up from their pew and joined me on my almost empty row. Wow. After church I ended up staying almost 45 minutes chatting during coffee and donut time. Unexpectedly, I might return.
I went to the church to learn about Episcopal services and I did. The liturgy and music was a bit different, but felt right. The sermon was clear and Biblically sound. Yet, it was the since of welcome that draws me back to the congregation. I can't recall ever having such a warm welcome as a visitor. I can't recall providing such a warm welcome to a visitor.
That amazing welcome is the lesson I learned. When new people come into church settings, I ought to be eager to welcome them into the fold. Coming into a church is intimidating and awkward. However, living hospitality and remembering that fellowship should be inclusive, rather than exclusive are remedies for lack of welcome. If I was new to my church, would I return based on how I was greeted, connected with, and followed up? That is an important question. Relationships are key reasons why people stay at church. Therefore we must begin to relate to people who cross the threshhold of the church door with the intention of building the ground floor of a relationship. Shallow welcomes are inhospitable and possibly worse than no welcome at all. At church we all must be less concerned with chatting it up with all our friends and more concerned with engaging and relating to newcomers. That is the unexpected lesson I learned at St Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church. They get it; the genuine interest in someone new.