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Can I get a welcome?

Can I get a welcome?

Hospitality and Welcoming the Stranger in Our Midst

 

I wanted to share a few stories of experiences I have had visiting other worshipping communities, both good and bad. Before I moved to my current parish but after I had finished serving at my last parish, my fiancé (now husband) and I worshipped with two other Episcopal churches. We decided to go without any indication that we were priests (incognito-no collars, etc.) so that we could just participate and worship without drawing extra attention. We chose the first church because they worshipped in a higher style than we usually did and thought it would be an interesting experience. The second church we chose because it was not far away from where we were and they had a service late enough for us to sleep in a little. Before we went I thought that we would experience people being too eager for us to become involved. We were on the surface what many churches said they were looking for- a young couple who obviously knew and loved the liturgy.

 

Boy was I wrong! At both parishes nobody spoke to us except for the priest! (One of them knew me because it was not far from the parish I had been serving.) The first service we sat through not knowing much of what was going on, but no one offered us help to understand. They worshipped in a very high church style and had extra special actions because a bishop was visiting that neither of us had seen before. The second church had worship similar to what we knew and we participated fully. The second one even had a time at the end for visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. The priest who knew me looked at me and I shook my head, “no.” My husband and I are both introverted and neither of us wanted to make a spectacle of ourselves. We just wanted to worship. So maybe nobody said hello there because we did not stand up in front of 100 people we did not know to introduce ourselves. At the second parish we then spent 15 minutes wandering around trying to find a bathroom and still no one said hello or asked if they could help.  Leaving the second week in a row with the only hint of welcome coming from the priests, I couldn’t help but think that it’s no wonder the Episcopal Church is losing members.  I would not have returned to either place to worship.

 

In direct contrast to that experience was a worship service I attended recently at a convent in Tiffin, OH.  I was attending a retreat there and as part of our schedule we had the option to join the sisters for Vespers, an evening prayer service.  I enjoy praying with others in new ways so I went. Two of us from the retreat stepped into the door of the chapel looking around trying to figure out what we should do. Within a minute two sisters who had been sitting at different places in the sanctuary came over and offered to sit with us and help us through the service. Though a little unsure of being approached and wanting to blend in the back (I was at a Roman Catholic convent and was not sure how they would greet me), I agreed. The sister handed us their prayer books and pointed to numbers on a wall.  They were code to find the different parts of the service. She turned to me and the other retreatant at each turn of the page to make sure we knew where we were. I finally experienced how even a heart desiring to pray can have trouble navigating multiple pages throughout a book without a guide. After the service, the two sisters thanked us for praying with them and invited us to come to another service they had. It felt so good to be thanked for praying with them, especially because half the time I had no idea what was going on.

 

I share these experiences with you to help all of us to work together to be a church with genuine hospitality sharing God’s love with those who honor us by praying with us. What can you do to help someone who you do not recognize to feel welcome at your parish? How can we as a community make it so everyone feels like they can be included in prayer at our church? The first steps are introducing ourselves to our guests, wearing our name tags so those who have attended a few times don’t feel bad about not knowing people yet. How about our bulletin, our website, our building? Let’s work together to welcome the stranger as a guest who honors us with their presence when they come to pray with us.

 

 

Heather Hill is the rector of All Saints in Parma, Ohio.  When not leading their churches, she and her husband enjoy spending time with their preschool aged twins.

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Doug Simpson

Well, when Bishops are pushing messages like this, why should I feel welcome:

◾The new marriage liturgies will not be authorized in the Diocese of XXX.
◾No member of the clergy who is either canonically resident in the diocese or resident elsewhere while licensed in the diocese may preside or officiate at any service in which the recently-adopted rites are used, either in whole or in part. This restriction applies both within the bounds of the diocese and beyond them.
◾No resident or licensed cleric may sign the civil marriage certificate for a union between persons of the same sex.
◾No resident or licensed cleric may preside or officiate at the Blessing of a Civil Marriage for persons of the same sex.
◾Failure to abide by these expectations will be understood as a breach of an ordained person’s canonical vow of obedience to the Bishop, and dealt with accordingly.
◾No church building of the diocese, nor any other venue owned by or associated with a church of the diocese, may be used for such a ceremony.
◾No such ceremony may be recorded either in the Service Register or the Marriage Register of any church in this diocese.

If your Bishop has made it very clear that that I'm not welcome nor will my relationship be supported or welcomed in anyway, why would I step foot in a single parish of the diocese?

Can't wait to move in a couple of months to a diocese where we are actually welcomed and loved.

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Rev. Bill Christy

Christians' are subject to their own human nature. That's a fact! Expecting people to overcome their own human nature is realistically irrational. Extroverts will remain extroverts and introverts will remain introverts no matter how we slice the cake; and each will find Bible verses to justify their personal point of view. Parishioners caring enough about their church must determinedly step-up without judgement and be the example for others regardless if their example never takes hold. Church is a very complicated gathering of all kinds of people with all kinds of different psychology. Point being, churches will never change. Church politics will always be a part of the church. Knowing all this, true Christians must step forward and selflessly serve God the best they can and leave the rest in Christ's hands!

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JHPearson

To quote Katherine Hepburn's character from the movie, "The African Queen" : "Nature ... is what we are put in this world to rise above."

It's just too easy to say "that's just folks' nature, and there's no helping it." Everyday we all change in some ways and people are changeful in many remarkable ways if God gives them the grace and the days. I thought that was our church's message.

I'd sure like to be worshipping in a church that doesn't challenge me to be both different and better than "my nature." My head would rest easier on the pillow at night.

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JHPearson

Most previous comments seem to have focused on the experiences of casual visitors to churches, or of people who are in the early weeks of a "new-church search" looking to see if the community is a good fit for their needs.

But I think at a deeper level, beyond the gimmicks we try to engage new visitors, beyond the collective disgrace of our indifference to newcomers, there's the question of how welcoming the Episcopal Church truly is (despite what all those little blue signs say)? After decades worshipping in many different churches in many parts of the US (and the world), I do think that the church generally is most hospitable to folks who have dropped in or are "church shopping."

But trouble begins when the newcomer doesn't fit the profile of the place, if she doesn't really get on with the Rector/Rector's wife/Warden and Vestry or whomever. If you've got opinions and have the temerity to share them, you might just find the place doesn't welcome you or even want you at all. Heaven help you if you're some mousy widow who doesn't write a big check and you suggest the candles and flowers on the altar need some rethinking. That's the moment when you will discover just how fleeting the welcome is at some of these places.

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Robert W Smith

I have attended many different Episcopal churches in the past few years where most parishioners go out of their way to make me and my wife feel at home. I remember going to a church on an Easter morning. My wife and I couldn't believe how the members of that church took the time to introduce them selves to us and welcome us to their parish. They even went so far to make sure we met the Rector, and made sure we got coffee and cake.

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Paul Woodrum

Lord have mercy! Episcopalians are such a thin-skinned, picky lot.

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