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I was a stranger, and you welcomed me

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The Anglican Church welcomes you!

“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

Here in Churchland, we almost always believe ourselves to be welcoming and warm. We like to think that our parishes will greet newcomers with open arms, with smiles, with true Christian hospitality (just like our signs say we do!).

I was delighted this morning to receive such a greeting.

I was worshiping with friends at their church, so I walked into the building with them – but was still greeted by a greeter who made sure I had the books and bulletin. Before I had reached the pew (about 5 rows up) I’d heard “Good morning!” and “Hello!” with smiles from everyone I passed. During the peace a few folks made a special effort to come over to me, even when (especially when?) they knew I was with my friends. Coffee hour was more of the same – people introducing themselves, people offering me coffee (bless!), people engaging in polite conversations.

They didn’t ignore me.

They didn’t try to get me on a committee.

They didn’t try to hand me envelopes.

They didn’t stare at me awkwardly.

They didn’t hover around in large groups trying to convince me to bring all my young friends with me next time.

They simply welcomed me. It was lovely. It was how a church should be. It was comfortable and casual. They enjoyed my being there, they invited me to return, they were happily shocked to discover that I was a priest (though a few laughed that my knowledge of the BAS had been a clue of my being a regular church-goer!).

It was the type of reception that everyone hopes for when they enter a church. It was the type of reception I hope and pray everyone will receive when they enter a new worship space. But, sadly, I know that this is not always the case. Many of us have had negative experiences of being the stranger (I’ve been kicked out of pews, I’ve been told I’m worshiping wrong, I’ve been told my sandals are inappropriate in a church…)

So today I celebrate the welcome I received. I celebrate every church that lives out this welcoming ministry at every opportunity. I pray that every church might be as welcoming as they think they are, so that we can show those walking through our doors that we truly live out the Gospel.

What are the best welcomes you have received in a worshiping community?

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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6 Responses to I was a stranger, and you welcomed me

  1. Kyle Norman

    As clergy it is often hard to get authentic welcome’s – at lease anglican churches.  Usually there is the understanding that another clergy is in the midst.  So I often get a special “And we welcome Reverend Norman and his family here. .’  Then people deal with me as preist – not as visitor.

    I have to say, I like being anonymous.  I don’t like grand displays.  If the people will turn around in the pews and greet me, that’s great.  I am generally not looking for conversations, because it usually involves ‘What do you do? Oh a priest. Well nice to meet you.’  So I enjoy it when I am acknowledged and smiled at (maybe a handshake) but then generally given space conducive to worship.

    Now if you ever do a post about horrible welcomes . . boy could I tell you some stories!

  2. I too have had the announcement of being clergy throw off an authentic greeting. It was so lovely to just be me in that context – friend, Auntie, fellow worshiper. The only way I have ever been greeted in that particular parish is as a guest – in my friends’ wedding, at their son’s baptism, and random visits. So the folks don’t know me well enough or see me often enough to expect me as anything else. Even during the coffee hour when folks came to chat, the conversation was around how I knew the family and was I *sure* I didn’t want some cake?

    Clergy have a hard time gauging how the average person is greeted in the church because we are so seldom the anonymous ones… I think that’s why it caught me as blog-worthy. And as I’ve seen a few folks post in other places, they *try* to be this type of greeter.

    The priest in the parish (first day of his interim) was very kind in greeting everyone as they moved from the worship space to the parish hall – learning names, etc. When I said I was just a guest (with no hint of my profession) he just said “welcome guest!” and embraced me in a hug. Welcoming, genuine, and kind. The kind of greeting one wants from a priest – the kind of greeting I *try* to give to guests.

  3. I’m really glad to hear this visit was so welcoming. I think that’s what most people are hoping for–especially during vacation or family visits. Of course, sometimes people prefer to sneak in quietly, and sit in the corner, unnoticed. Sometimes being a fly on the wall is an important part of church shopping. (I don’t use that term lightly, because I do think if “trying on” a congregation doesn’t involve engagement and participation, then it probably suggests one is looking for something other than being part of a community.)

    However: another blog has been making the rounds this week (for the second or third time, as it was first posted in March), but I read it with renewed interest alongside this one. In it, Rob Moss describes his congregation’s decision to be inviting (active) rather than welcoming (passive). Thoughts?

  4. I think congregations need to be both welcoming AND inviting – it will depend on the situation and the people. And for us all to learn the difference, and to recognise the signs of what’s called for, will be a challenge and growth opportunity.

    In my most recent experience, I was welcomed – I was clearly already engaged, with people I knew, and comfortable with what was going on in the church. So the casual chats from the folks who welcomed me were more of a way to treat me as an extension of the family I was with.

    There have been other times, however, when I wanted to receive a warm welcome but then be left alone – times when I was struggling with personal spiritual matters. In those times, the quiet back pew (or front pew if I want to be left alone!) is the safe space I’m looking for, without someone coming up with casual chitchat.

    I think the authenticity of the welcome/invite is also a very important to consider. If someone is speaking the right words but is not feeling it, that will come across and defeat the purpose, and could possibly turn people away as they feel they are being patronised. Likewise, someone with the biggest of hearts can say the wrong words but their authenticity shines through and the greeting is received as intended.

  5. Frustrating to be welcomed or greeted if kneeling in pre-service prayer! A place with a non-liturgical background that’s becoming anglican……
    “Good morning! How are you?”
    “ummmm, fine. I’m kneeling here praying to get my mind around the idea of being at church, instead of making a grocery list for after the service, which I’m likely to do during the creed anyway.” at least that’s what I want to say! (or “I’m kneeling here becs I’m an introvert and I want to worship here but not have a social occasion before/during the service.”)

    • Thanks for these comments, Sally. I think they reflect that welcoming should be to address, and ideally meet, the needs of the guest – rather than those of the greeters. Truly welcoming someone means (in my opinion!) meeting folks where they’re at instead of forcing our pre-conceived notions onto them. So seeing a new person kneeling in prayer, folks should recognise that the guest is in conversation with God and not interrupt. Perhaps once you were off your knees they could say hello, ask if you were familiar with the service, offer a prayer book. I think part of our challenge is to realise that in the effort to be welcoming, we’re potentially becoming invasive; and that just defeats the purpose.
      BTW as a preacher I’m glad to hear the grocery list waited until the end of the sermon! 🙂

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