Welcoming the Stranger
Later, as they were leaving, they said, "Only one person spoke to us and introduced themselves. We thought you would want to know." The father went on to note that he liked our Yellow Pages ad, and we had at least lived up to not yelling at them. And yet the couple was clearly wrankled by our not being adequately welcoming.
As we spoke, I looked up and the entry hall was still very full with perhaps as many as half of the 131 people who came to worship with us. There were lots of groups of people talking energetically and I could see how it would be hard to attach and easy to slide on out as this couple was doing. It would be easy to see us as a friendly church, but a church that is friendly with one another rather than strangers. Though I did know new faces who I could see speaking with folks who had been at King of Peace longer. A stranger couldn't see that. They could only see the welcome they had recieved.
I told them that what we teach specifically is a 5-minute Rule. In the first five minutes after worship those who consider King of Peace their church home should look for people they do not know and go up and say, "Hi I'm _____. I don't believe we have met." Then talk, get the person connected to others with similar interests, ages of children, whatever. And if you see someone new already has someone speaking with them, let it go until next time as we also don't want to mob newcomers.
This is central for us as hospitality is one of our values of King of Peace. Frankly, I was pleased that someone noticed the couple and spoke to introduce themselves. That is heartening. Yet two visitors left feeling they had not been welcomed. No matter what I think of how we did, our response fell short of their expectation of what a welcoming Episcopal Church is like.
So while I'm Monday morning quarterbacking the situation, I thought I would ruminate along with y'all. What should we do? How can we learn, as a group, to better welcome strangers in our midst? How can we be welcoming to newcomers rather than just friendly with one another? And I want to challenge some of the 200+ daily lurkers to chime in and help me sort through the challenge of the ministry of hospitality.
In the archives is the sermon The Value of Hospitality.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor + King of Peace Episcopal Church