Another Sunday, another church, but this one is special, because my friend is the vicar. It was a Family Eucharist, and all we needed was a laminated service sheet, (A4, printed on both sides) and this week’s bulletin (B4, folded, printed on both sides) containing the hymns, collects and announcements.
Since it was a family service it wasn’t difficult to follow. I just had to remember to keep an eye on both sheets. Of course, I am kind of biased because it’s my friend’s parish, but I did enjoy the service. Her homily was short and held the children’s interest but had a message for the adults present too.
To receive communion we all stood in a circle around the altar, and children who didn’t receive the bread and wine received a blessing and a sticker, which I thought was a wonderful idea. I saw a little girl later with her sticker proudly stuck on the front of her dress.
After the service there were refreshments at the back of the church. All the children sat together on the floor (apparently there are usually tables and chairs) and the adults stood around and chatted. I asked for a cup of tea and then stood near the table and . . . no one spoke to me. Eventually the person in charge of the tea and coffee said something, but no one else said anything to me at all.
And so I was left wondering again, what is it about Anglicans and welcoming visitors (or not)? Why are we not very good at it? I was there with a member of their vicar’s family, so right there I would think are two points; I must be a visitor (because they don’t know me) but I am with someone they know, so surely it would be easy to start a conversation?
I know we all lead busy lives, and one of the joys of being a member of a congregation is the connections to be made, the friends to catch up with every week (or however often you attend). Of course that shouldn’t be neglected but what about the visitor? Can’t we spare a few minutes to welcome them?
Every week when I am in the UK I attend a different church, but every week I am struck by the same things; I am a visitor and yet no one checks if I know my way round the service, if I am clear about how to receive communion, and no one talks to me unless I lurk near them for a while and they eventually can’t put off speaking to me any longer.
For about three years I was a member of a Lutheran church in Tokyo and I was impressed by how different their approach to visitors was. There was always a welcome, a small joy at someone new joining the worship. It’s not difficult, and surely we can all do it.
We may be greeting someone who has felt called by God to come to church, but is feeling nervous, unsure of what to do, who needs a helping hand through the service, a smile over a cup of coffee. It’s such an opportunity and one that is so often missed.
We may be entertaining angels. We may be welcoming someone to church for the first time, and our greeting, conversation, help might make all the difference in the world.