I recently visited a well known church while in another country.
I had heard much about the church. God has accomplished much good through it, and seen many come to know Jesus. I looked forward to visiting, hearing the Word of God taught and seeing what else I might be able to learn about church.
Being new, I allowed plenty of time to get there, and was there in plenty of time. I didn’t want to miss a thing. However, even following the directions, it wasn’t that easy to find. The signage was far too discreet. And when I did find it, jargon was used even about where to go to find where the church met (maybe everyone else got it, except for me). Interestingly, the hired security guards were the most friendly people I met on the way in.
It is an interesting experience arriving at a church for the first time. God sent Jesus into the world to welcome people back to himself, at great cost. Surely, this means that people at a church would be very eager to see visitors. Well, perhaps sometimes.
I grabbed my bulletin and found a seat – still early. What struck me was the number of other people also sitting by themselves, waiting. We were all pretending to read the handout (well, at least I was – there are only so many times that you can!).
Then, finally, a couple came into my row toward me. Even as a minister visiting another church, I really wanted someone to talk to me and put me at ease (yes!). They sat down, without saying anything. Eventually, I said hello, introduced myself, asked their names, and asked if they were regular at this church. They politely answered everything, but then looked down and didn’t ask me anything! I’m not sure if I was thankful for the ‘forced greeting time,’ or not. The same person said ‘I’m sorry. Are you visiting?’ It was kind of like acknowledging that they should have asked me before.
Afterwards, I decided to go to the ‘coffee hour, where you can meet people.’ Why not? For half an hour I drank a cup of coffee, without anyone talking to me. No one. Yes, the sermon was good – I felt nourished by the Word of God, and was thankful for the work that the preacher put into preparing and teaching God’s Word.
But was it too much to expect good teaching and a warm, genuine welcome? Was it just me? Do I come across as an Indian terrorist? Perhaps, but I suspect not. Before church and over the ‘coffee hour’, I was struck by how many people were either alone or talking within their families. I am not saying that people were not friendly, by the way. They seemed to be – but it was amongst those they already knew, rather than to me as a first time guest (well, except for the hired security guard).
As I reflected, I realised that I had met my goals. I was encouraged from the Word of God. And I learnt a thing or two about church.
Feature photo: decaf