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The secret society

"Secret Garden" Some rights reserved (CC BY 2.0) by Jenny Downing. Sourced from Flickr.A few weeks back, at fellowship after church, we were talking about when to start up fall programmes again –specifically Bible Study. One member, who has been long connected with the parish but over the summer started attending more regularly, asked a question: “Is that a secret society?”

Obviously, it was in jest; he ahs a great sense of humour. But it raised some significant awareness for us. Within the parish, we’ve been gathering for years for Bible Study. So we know what we mean when we’re talking about it: how it will be run, when it will take place, &c. But to someone who has never attended, there are all sorts of questions that can be asked.

Is it a set programme? Is there a cost? Is there additional material to purchase/borrow/study? What if I miss a week? Do I have to sign up?

Valid questions. Of course, for those of us who have been participating, we know all the answers – but we’re on the inside of this ‘secret society’. And, sadly, we hadn’t realized that meant our friend was on the outside of this knowledge.

Well, we were quick to remedy that. And we all had a good laugh.

We’ve been more conscious, however, now that we are starting fall programmes again, to articulate to the broader community exactly what we mean. For example, we’re more intentional to articulate the date/time/location, the format, the expectation. And we’re doing this to make sure everyone feels welcome to join us – we don’t want to BE a secret society.

We’re also now thinking about all of our other programmes and connections, and how these are shared with the broader community. Just because we know what we’re doing doesn’t mean others will, nor does it mean they will understand. We can’t presume that newcomers will necessarily know what our acronyms mean, what our scheduling codes are, where to find something they need. Because if we do, we’re unintentionally alienating folks. Of course they will, if they spend enough time with us, come to be familiar with our unique ways.

But – if we are to truly be welcoming, we need to help people feel comfortable, and part of the family. It’s about community, after all – not secret societies!

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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4 Responses to The secret society

  1. Sharon Harding

    There are a number of things in our church that can be quite foreign to newcomers and can create a sense of exclusion. How to navigate the prayer book is a prime example. It can be really confusing if you are not familiar with the book and how it is arranged. Page number prompts are an easy way to help people, figure out where they are supposed to be, so they can join in. Then there are all those secret code words aka as church jargon. Words such as redemption, grace, salvation, or even primates. I heard of one lady that was under the mistaken impression that the PWRDF was an organization dedicated to protecting primates (as in animals). Funny and sad at the same time!

  2. It’s interesting how, beyond remembering that even some long-time parishioners may have, as it were, fallen through the cracks of finding out what programmes are and how to become involved, that in the age of the Internet, church shoppers also need to be taken into account when putting information on a church website. The type of information they are looking for in respect of a programme, for instance a bible study, might still be different than someone who is attending regularly. For instance, while someone who attends and might be interested in getting involved might want to know a bit more about what happens at a bible study and who to contact to become involved, someone who is church shopping might be more interested in getting a sense of how often it meets, who is involved and perhaps what the group has done in its previous season and what it is planning for the coming/current season.

  3. We have to be more open to not acting like the church is a secret society. And I am as guilty of acting so as much as anyone. What I should remember is a Sunday in 1967 when I first walked into the Anglican church not knowing 1 end of the prayer book from other and someone guided me .
    Also I have seen how acting thus can lead to a parish’s heading to non existance , if we do not replace people that’s what happens. So let us not act so

  4. Thanks all for the comments! For us, it was a good reminder to be aware of what we’re sharing and what we’re presuming. And it was from a known and loved friend, so it could be easily shared and discussed. And it got us thinking: in what other areas of communications are we making presumptions? What else is not being understood by folks in the pews… in the community… in the other congregations in our parish grouping? What info do we ned to give, and what is too much? &c. I don’t think it’s unique to the church, but it’s been a worthwhile exercise for us.

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