Tomorrow we will welcome four new members into the congregation!
There have been many more new members in the congregation over the past several months, but in the changing world around us, lives are busy, and expectations from the church are changing. So is the way people relate to church membership. We are working to create new ways to respond to those changes.
We make a big deal at St. Paul’s out of “Welcoming All.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. The celebration of new members is a good time to have some reminders on what Welcoming All looks like in practice. One thing I love about St. Paul’s is that “Welcoming All” is not just my job or just the greeters’ job-- it is everybody’s job. We are all in this together.
We have so many people that go above and beyond in welcoming it makes my heart sing! There are some things I wonder if we might think about to continue that journey. For example: how important is it for us to wear name tags as newcomers work on becoming new members? Long-timers have a few newcomers’ names to learn as they arrive constantly, but each week newcomers struggle to learn hundreds of names as they try to incorporate. How will we help them? (If you need a name tag, order one at the Greeters’ table, “Welcoming Central”.)
Coffee hour can be intimidating as well. The Greeters are focused on identifying newcomers so that we capture their information for welcome letters and formal institutional processes. But I wonder what we can all do to identify anyone-- long-timer or newcomer- who is standing at coffee hour looking for Christian fellowship?
Speaking of Greeters, did you know that newcomers often make up their mind whether or not they will return in the first ten minutes of their visit! We are working on making sure we have Greeters at all our services to make sure that those 10 minutes are full of friendly faces to give directions, answer questions, and just be helpful-- but we are in need of more greeters. We need Greeters especially at 10:30, and I would love to be able to add greeters to the Evensong service as well. If you are interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We try to limit service to one Sunday a month. I wonder what you might be able to do before the service to be intentional about Welcoming All to make those first 10 minutes count?
But beyond the “standard” hospitality of hand-shakes and name-tags, the real focus of Welcoming All is to communicate to people that they belong. There is so much pain in the world, so much exclusion- even in churches- that if we are not instruments of God’s unconditional love, how can anyone understand that St. Paul’s is a safe space, a place of hope, a place where you can just be who God made you to be and heal? And that job starts with name tags and handshakes but must move beyond to something deeper.
It is for that reason we have changed the structured incorporation process starting last fall. The institutional church of the 1950s focused on belief first: people came to church and expected to be told what to believe. That is not the case anymore, and is not in line with our Anglican heritage of Elizabeth I’s not wanting to “create windows into men’s souls” -- where common worship holds us together instead of confessional belief. And so we have shifted our newcomer program to focus on belonging first: the newcomer’s class starts with a modified spiritual autobiography course now. We have just finished a series of that modified course and the feedback was great.
The “What is an Episcopalian” course will still be offered for Confirmation, to be timed with bishop visitations, because let’s face it: if you have not been Episcopalian there are a lot of questions you might have: “What is a patten, a verger, a purificator, the crazy bishop’s hat” and so forth.
But my hope is that we as a community will continue to deepen our ownership for each other’s spiritual lives, and for the lives of those who seek welcome from us. That may mean things like inviting newcomers to your home for gatherings you already have scheduled with long-time members, or to lunch after church, or other ways of intentionally Welcoming All as we informally gather and share stories as a church community. It may mean risking relationships with new people who may or may not stay around as long as others, sharing long-time relationships with them-- but getting a different kind of “payback” in that vulnerability and self-offering. I have to wonder if that isn’t what the call of the gospel is about, really? We strive to Love Christ, Serve Others, and Welcome All, and the riches of radical hospitality continue to make St. Paul’s what it is and who God has called us to be. Thanks be to God!