June 6, 2011

"Make Yourself at Home"

“Make yourself at home.”

I’ve heard, and uttered, this phrase thousands of time in my life. And, depending on the situation, I either follow through or I don’t, my actions guided by the intangible ‘vibes’ my senses pick up.

I stopped to reflect on this recently, after a meeting with the senior wardens and clergy at Iglesia San Pedro – St. Peter’s Church in Salem, Massachusetts. We were talking about how this Church, made up of a legacy Anglo congregation and an existing Latino congregation searching for a new home, has been successful in creating one congregation rather than two sharing a common space.

During our conversation, I heard how welcome members of the Latino congregation felt the first time they worshiped at St. Peters. How the music director welcomed their choir and musicians and incorporated their musical traditions into the service. How the service was conducted in both Spanish and English – and of the marathon four-hour session to create their first bilingual bulletin – so that all could follow along.

Talking with Fr. Daniel and Fr. Paul, I learned of their commitment, from the first, to co-, rather than shared leadership. Coming from a situation where they felt like guests, albeit welcomed guests, the Latino congregation was looking for a home. They wanted a real voice, an ownership stake – and St. Peter’s was ready to offer one.

I heard of the early decision to invite a member of the Latino congregation to serve on the Vestry in an ex officio category rather than wait until the end of the one-year period required for standing for election. And how first a junior warden, and now the senior warden, were Latino.

I heard of a philosophy and an approach built around ‘let’s try.’ And, an acknowledgement that it takes more than good intentions to create a climate of ‘we.’ They shared stories of how the legacy congregation opened themselves, and their buildings, to the stranger and how the newcomers began to both accept the offerings and to offer gifts of their own in return.

And, again and again, I heard about the ‘vibe,’ the overarching sense of welcome that permeated this sacred space, which made the newcomers feel truly welcome and able to make themselves at home.

Life has shown me that this ‘vibe,’ this sense of welcome can’t be faked. And, that sometimes, even when we want to be welcoming, there are barriers we may not be aware of, that sabotage our attempts.

As congregational leaders, how have you been successful in intentionally creating welcome? Can you share an example of what makes you ’feel at home’ in a new situation?