Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.

9/19/2008

A Pastor Goes Church Shopping

Below is today's religion column for the Tribune & Georgian written by the Rev. Maryann McFadden Meador. She reports on visiting churches in Camden County and not finding them welcoming. While she does not refer to King of Peace, she did visit our church and we are one of the many churches in the county she refers to in the article which follows. Comments are, as always, highly encouraged. What do y'all think of her experiences?

For the past 16 years, I have served in a pastoral role in United Methodist churches in 3 states: New Jersey, Texas, and Illinois. I took an active part in the introduction of the church’s “Igniting Ministries” outreach campaign and always spoke with my congregations about the need to welcome visitors warmly and make efforts to invite them to be part of the church community.

I encouraged people to follow the “60 second rule”, that is, to spend the first 60 seconds at the end of worship speaking with a person whom they did not already know. I formed ministry teams of folks whose calling it was to seek out and welcome visitors, giving them a small gift from the church. Every Monday, I sent letters to everyone who visited on Sunday, if they had signed the pew pads, as requested. I always included the “passing of the peace” as an important part of worship and again, encouraged people to greet newcomers, and not just speak with their friends. Whether or not they ultimately joined the church, I was pretty sure that visitors were greeted and spoken with when they visited. Once or twice, I even had to discourage congregation members from “swarming” and overwhelming visitors.

Then I got to be a visitor. I was granted family leave from my conference and moved to another conference, and had the chance to visit other churches – to “church shop”, if you will, for the first time in 16 years. My plan was to not tell people that I was a pastor, but to simply visit a different church each Sunday, and to sit in the pews and worship God, just like a “regular” person.

In so doing, I became that sought after, spoken of, “visitor” and got to experience first hand what it feels like to be a stranger in church. Each week, I selected another church at which to worship, either by looking through the local newspaper or simply by driving by and noticing a church. I wanted to experience worship in denominations and traditions different from my own, as well as my own, and I was excited about the journey. I was excited to hear good sermons – other than my own. I was excited to meet new people.

But first, I had to determine at what time the worship service was held. And that was not always as easy as it sounds. One church’s sign said they worshipped at 10 AM. I arrived at 9:55 AM and found the place empty. Turns out they worship at 11 AM, but nobody ever changed the sign. I went somewhere else that Sunday.

Another church did not list the time of worship on their sign, so I “googled “ them, checked their website, and believe it or not, no worship time was listed there, either. Undaunted, I called the church office phone on Saturday evening, hoping that the answering machine message would give me the needed information. Again, no such luck. You would think that finding this type of information would be a “no-brainer”, wouldn’t you? I couldn’t help but wonder if these churches were really interested in having visitors, or if it was a closed club.

But I persisted. And visit I did. And it was scary. Scary to enter a strange building by myself: “Is that the front entrance?” “Where am I supposed to park?” “Will anyone speak with me?” “Should I say “good morning” to everyone as I always did as the pastor, or wait to for them to speak to me?”

Most of the time, an officially designated “greeter” stood at the church door, smiled, shook my hand, wished me a good morning, and handed me a worship bulletin. So far, so good. Now, where is the sanctuary?

I experienced many types of worship. There was the contemporary service, with a praise band and lyrics projected on a large screen. It was high energy, and well attended, but I had never heard any of the songs before, and more importantly, no one spoke with me. Then again, no one spoke to anyone else either. I seemed to be in a church service full of strangers. I was visiting churches to worship God, but also to find and become part of a Christian community. Other than the officially designated greeter, no one else looked at me, spoke with me, gave me a gift, or thanked me for coming. I felt ignored.

Then there was the more traditional Christian service. Familiar, well loved hymns, a structured service, a good sermon, a beautiful worship facility. I felt very much at home. But no one spoke with me. I even hung around at what seemed to be a coffee hour after worship (though it was never formally announced that it was a coffee hour, and I neither saw nor was offered any coffee)—looking lost, and obviously new. There were no more than 70 people in worship, and I knew from experience that new folks stand out in a crowd that size. Still, no one spoke with me. By now, I was yearning for connection and community, and so, I initiated conversation with several folks around me. Maybe they were just shy, and I would have to break the ice. No dice. Each of my conversational gambits were met with polite smiles and turned backs. I was sure I had brushed my teeth and applied deodorant that morning. Oh well, maybe if they saw me a few times, they would warm up. After my third visit, the pastor spoke with me; he obviously recognized me and smiled and wished me a good morning. Good for him, but the pastor is not the church.

I visited several churches more than once. I heard some really wonderful sermons, and some great and not so great music and singing. I was uplifted and challenged and inspired. But not welcomed.

Until I decided to step way outside of my comfort zone and visit an all black United Methodist Church. By myself. ( I am not African American). And there, I experienced the warmest, most wonderful, welcoming experience of my journey. I was greeted, hugged, welcomed, and truly felt like the people were glad that I was with them. Just about everyone made a point of speaking to me, and telling me that they were pleased that I was there. We worshipped God exuberantly and extravagantly, with singing and clapping and shouting and great joy. I felt like I had come home. I felt like I had gotten very near to the kingdom.

The pastor reached out to me the following day, and we struck up a friendship. She invited me to preach at the church, and I was honored to do so. Every Sunday that I worship in this church is a joyful experience, a homecoming experience, and I already feel like a part of the community, even though the color of my skin is different.

My experience as a stranger, a visitor, a sojourner, has been exciting, and scary, and eye-opening. I keep hearing the words of Matthew 25:35 echo in my ears: “…for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me….” (NRSV)

How welcoming are you to the strangers in your midst?

Rev. Maryann McFadden Meador is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and a member in full connection of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. She is on family leave on absence, and has recently relocated to coastal Georgia.

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12 Comments:

  • At 9/19/2008 7:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think the verse that came to her mind was further down in the same part of Matthew (I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in) She says she wasn't welcomed.

    I know that we try to welcome new people. Most new people I see go straight out the door and don't slow down. I don't want to bother people. It's hard to know, but I thought if she stopped to look around King of Peace someone would talk to her. I would like to think I would have talked to her. Gil talked to me when I first came to KOP. I remember that.

     
  • At 9/19/2008 7:46 AM, Anonymous monkey said…

    I think she's a bit overly critical if it's King of Peace she is referring to with the 70 people at service. I've never experienced anybody, even when I was a new member, politely smile and turn their back on me or my family. Even when I do stay for "coffee hour", which is unofficial and really has no need to be announced, I see the effort of our congregation to make introductions and conversations with visitors.

    I've also heard the opposite from acquaintances who have visited our church and said that the congregation was welcoming but our pastor did not speak to them so they never returned. (Sorry, not my experience, just relaying what I've been told.)

    And, of course Rev. Meador is going to stand out in a church where she is of another race in comparison to the majority of that particular congregation. She is easily spotted as the visitor. And what does she mean by "By myself. (I am not African American.)" Was she with somebody when visiting other churches or was she just extra brave to enter a mostly African American church alone? I was under the impression that she was stepping out of her comfort zone with all the churches that she visited.

    I also feel that Rev. Meador is judgmental concerning what she feels is good music and singing and not. Why even bring that up? Those particular churches may not have a lot of what she considers musical talent in their midst, but at least they tried.

    We do an adequate job in welcoming people at King of Peace. Maybe we could do more, but how far do we have to go? We can try to go beyond the smile, handshake and polite "hello", but to we have to throw a party with hugs, shouts of joy and an invitation to preach?

    Rev. Meador in relaying her experiences has come across as quite judgmental and unforgiving, especially as an ordained elder/pastor. She needs to realize that personalities of various denominations and churches are different. Some are reserved and formal. Some are shy. Some are boisterous. Some are without music and some rock &roll. But, they all have a congregation with members who feel comfortable in worshipping there for whatever reason. They wouldn't be there if they didn't feel welcome.

     
  • At 9/19/2008 10:06 AM, Blogger Victoria said…

    Frank has said it numerous times, and I have to agree with him--one cannot judge what a church is like after only one visit. It takes a least a few Sundays, but preferably a month.

    Any given Sunday there are a number of variables at play including attendance and music. Attendance varies for myriad reasons. In a world where church must compete with everything from sports events to travel and meetings, attendance varies greatly from Sunday to Sunday. And, a "poor" church like King of Peace cannot afford to hire a music or choir director and must depend on the kindness of those who are interested AND in town that Sunday to lead music.

    I think those of us who have the "gift" at King of Peace always make a point of speaking to people they don't recognize. Frank, too, will greet newcomers as they leave the church and if they make themselves known to him. But, as anyone who has witnessed Frank after a service, there are often a dozen or more people vying for his attention. So, if a newcomer slips by or doesn't want to wait around, there isn't much he can do about it.

    And, as always, when it comes to greeting newcomers, there is a wide range of possibilities, from a smile and a hello to trying to entice the newcomer to take part in one of the church's ministries. And therein lies the problem: is the person you are approaching an extreme introvert like myself who needs to slowly work her way into the life of the church or are they the extreme extrovert willing to jump in immediately with both feet?

    Unfortunately, we don't wear signs that say what we need and so it is left to the "greeters" to guess. And sometimes, we just guess wrong (in both directions).

     
  • At 9/20/2008 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I attend church to worship God and have an experience with him. I don't expect when I walk through the doors for it all to be about me and who notices that I am there.

     
  • At 9/20/2008 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Any church that wants to grow its congregation should take these comments to heart. KOP is a fantastic church, but at times it seems that their are cliques and for those who are part of one, you don't see that people feel excluded. To grow we need to be able to hear people's different views and consider them. A "poor" church needs new members to be viable. This may sound silly, but when I was in college in a sorority, we actually practiced mingling with people and the things we could say and such b/c we wanted everyone to feel welcome at our parties and we wanted to draw out those shy girls who might not feel comfortable. It was genuine and it helped those of us who were not as outgoing and good with speaking to people we didn't know as much as it helped the quieter people visiting. I agree with a previous comment that you must visit a place at least 4 times to really get to know it and practice that myself, but if someone doesn't feel welcome at all the first time, s/he is not likely to return. At the same time, I have visited MANY churches in K'd and can honestly say that KOP does a better job than most in welcoming people. However, we must never lose our ability to see ourselves as others may see us -- even on a first impression -- if we want to grow and improve.

     
  • At 9/21/2008 7:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Looking in on this discussion from the outside...I've never been to your church, but I was in a sorority rush and I do hope the two have little to do with one another. I remember making my way back to church after many years and am glad that when I made a beeline for a pew and a beeline for the door, no one stopped me. I wasn't sure I wanted to be there and I didn't want to talk with anyone about anything. I just wanted to be in God's house while I sorted through some things.

     
  • At 9/22/2008 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When you search with the eyes of a critical person you will only see the one critical spectrum. To me this is an interesting story of where ones' heart and mind would have to be to recieve what God intends you should recieve for that day. She may have carried herself in ways that would divert any display of welcomness, but her eyes where only critical of the actions everyone else, not herself. I know I have been guilty of not being very welcoming aswell, maybe its the thousand yard stare and shaved head that does it.

     
  • At 9/22/2008 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When I first visited King of Peace, no one spoke to me. But I looked around and noticed that there was a church full of love. Many different groups of people were hugging and talking before and after the service. Even having never been inside an Episcopalian Church, I could tell this was the place for me. I knew I had found my church home and kept coming and volunteering to help in various ways. KoP is my family now and I am glad! Maris

     
  • At 9/22/2008 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    One more thought...I wish people who are going to comment would believe in what they say enough to sign their names. Somehow the Anonymous writers scare me. Maris

     
  • At 9/23/2008 4:13 PM, Blogger King of Peace said…

    The comment on cliques above and the one that occured one time before have caught me off guard. Perhaps becuase it is as negatively charged a word as "cult." So you prefer not to attend an Episcopal Church and everyone goes "ho hum." Call it a cult and you have done something very different.

    Say that on visiting people seemed friendly, even if no one spoke to me and you have said one thing. Say there are cliques and you have said something very different. I am quite sure that the anonymous writer knows this and so uses the word clique to convey groups one can not break into or something like that.

    In fact, I see interactions and know more about people and I don't see cliques but something wonderful. Yes, there are people who know each other well and like to gather and talk. But I also see the many ways in which people form groups one would never expect and even if they are not friends outside of church in terms of doing other things together, they are glad to see each other at King of Peace.

    An example of this came on a recnt Saturday morning when Victoria and I arrived at church to the happy laughter of five women laughing as three of them were working on a flower arrangement. Someone could see that happy group and think clique, but nothing could be further from the truth. The two there for the altar guild met through serving together as did two from the flower guild, with the third being the daughter of one of the persons making the arrangement. The all came together through serving their church.

    Yet, I hesitate to write this as it could seem to deny something real that has been experienced at King of Peace and I wish I could get at that experience and understand it better. I do know that within any larger community, smaller groups will have to form for real community to develop. These groups tend to form around persons with similar interests or at similar points in life. Certainly we have that at King of Peace. But I thought those groups were permiable and persons who wish to get more involved can and do. What am I missing?

    Also, the comments above have not been as peaceful as they might. What lies behind our defensiveness? What would it be like for Pastor Meador if she visited King of Peace again?

    peace,
    Frank+
    The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor

     
  • At 9/23/2008 5:12 PM, Anonymous monkey said…

    I still stand by my view that Rev. Meador was overly critical in her article. In fact, I would have written a responsive letter to the editor had I not been a member of King of Peace.

    I have a difficult time with an ordained person who visits churches and critiques them in an article in our newspaper. No, she didn't mention us by name, but as a community on the smaller side, she would have known we would recognize ourselves. As an ordainded person she should be teaching by expample of how not to judge, yet she proved herself otherwise.

    I can't say how she would be treated if she came back to King of Peace. Would our "niceness" be sincere, or overdone in a paranoid attempt to pass the hospitality test?

    Frankly, now I'm paranoid. When I talk with a group of friends or a group that I'm working with in church, will I be considered in a clique? If I don't want to socialize, but only pray that day, will I be called a snob? Who is watching me? Shouldn't it be God?

    And, I should have added something in my first comment that I wrote in haste. About those aquaintances that never returned when our pastor did not approach them: One time it was because Frank and Victoria were out of town. We had a visiting priest. Another time, I did defend Father Frank and how busy he can become after service. I invited the people back and did offer an introduction to our pastor to no avail.

    In defense of our defensivess: We are a family at King of Peace and we love each other. I think it was that "blood is thicker than water" thing going on. We all see the good in each other so our feathers get a bit ruffled when somebody comes along who sees us differently.

    Did anybody notice that my first comment was overly critical of Dr. Meador's article? I was waiting for somebody to call me out on that! :)

     
  • At 9/24/2008 11:32 AM, Anonymous Rhonda said…

    I don’t see Cliques within King of Peace. What I see are people who have common interests guiding, mentoring and just plain helping each other. I searched Camden County for a church I felt was mine; I was looking to reconnect with my Lord within a community of Christians. I was lost! I needed the love and guidance that has come from everyone at King of Peace.

    Attending my first service alone, I was touched by the acceptance I was shown by many who came up to me and asked my name. Many told me they were glad I had come and it was there hope I would return. The next week I came back. From that point on my children and I have been part of the Church family that is King of Peace. I found a church that took us in no questions asked, and has never asked for anything in return. I myself am an introvert but have found ways to include myself within ministries I feel comfortable in. I have found my way of giving back to my church.

    I’m still on my journey, trying to find my way in life. The one thing that has changed in the past year for me, I now have a church family to help me along my way. I know if I need anything, at the point I have had enough and I will need them, they will be there for me. I feel lucky to have found the King of Peace website late one night looking for another church to try and fit into. I am blessed to have had an immediate connection when I attended my first service. I have seen firsthand over and over again, the same reception I received at King of Peace.

    “What would it be like for Pastor Meador if she visited King of Peace again?”

    I would have to say, Bring It On! I know in my heart what she would find. It is shown each week, kindness and the Love that God has given us to share with others. But that’s just my two cents I felt I needed to add.

     

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