January 27, 2014

Giving Visitors a Gift

For the second time in about a month, I was visiting a church and was asked to stand up so that the congregation could welcome me. This time it was a large church. Afterward, someone came by to give me a flower. I was slightly uncomfortable, as I usually am at moments like this, but I also appreciated the effort. I'd rather be asked to stand up than completely ignored. 

Of course, those aren't the only choices. I liked the flower because it made me easily identifiable as a newcomer in the large church, where it's not always easy for parishioners to tell who is new. 

I’ve heard of a practice at another church (I haven’t been able to confirm if they’re still doing this in time to post this blog) in Rhode Island, where they keep a basket of votive candles for visitors to take so that they can remember their visit and that the church is praying for them. This gives newcomers a chance to identify themselves in a low pressure way as they grab a candle from the basket.

Other places have welcome tables, but I personally find these tables awkward, and do not know what to say to the people sitting at the welcome table. I don’t often have questions; I just want someone to talk to me.

Ultimately, this visit reminded me how difficult it can be for a church to be a welcoming place, given our tendency to close off our community and stay at a comfortable equilibrium. I know that many churches are worried about being pushy, and I agree that this should be a concern. Putting people on the spot in a church is not wise. Still, I think doing nothing is worse than trying and not getting it quite right. 

I like the idea of giving newcomers something a gift as it serves a dual purpose as a reminder to them and an identifier, making it easier for visitors and parishioners. As a relatively shy person who is terrible with names, I appreciate any help I can get when greeting newcomers to my church. As a shy person, I also appreciate being recognized as a visitor without standing in front of a large group of people.