Two weeks ago, we were stranded on an island.
Our ferry, scheduled to take us from Cape Breton island to Newfoundland, was cancelled not once, but twice. The first day was Maundy Thursday, so I decided to take advantage of the delay and attend a worship service at a local church.
Here's how the day unfolded, and
5 lessons I learned on how to welcome visitors to your church:
#1. Post Your Worship Times
Since we've never spent any real time in North Sydney, my first job was to find a church hosting a Maundy Thursday service. I assumed they all would, but I literally couldn't find Holy Week services listed on any church's websites! I was persistent, and the 5th church site I visited - St. Giles Presbyterian - had them listed on the home page.
LESSON: Don't assume that all 'your people' will know the service times. You never know when a visitor will need your church. Post all the worship times on your site, and highlight special services or changes in the schedule prominently on the home page.
#2. Notice the Newcomers
When I arrived at the church, another woman was also parking her car. I asked if I was parked in the correct lot. She asked who I was and if I was visiting. I shared my story about the ferry. By simply noticing and responding with warmth, she immediately made me feel welcome.
LESSON: When we have a rare Sunday off, we've visited a number of churches. In many, we leave without anyone ever introducing themselves or noticing that we're new. Always reach out to the person in the pew (or parking lot) that you don't know. Many people come to church for connection. The Church is not the building. The Church is always the people.
#3. Learn and Use Names
My new friend, Ruth, asked my name and remembered it. The congregation that day was small - probably only 20 people. When we entered the sanctuary, she introduced me to the group by name. The parishioners also remembered my name and used it in conversation after the service.
LESSON: There is power in knowing and using someone's name. We've all felt this at various times. Be aware when you meet someone new. Learn their name. Use name tags if you feel this might help. Also, I was comfortable being introduced to the group. Be sensitive to those who might be shy or introverted. Consider introducing them to another individual or smaller group.
#4. Explain the Worship
The service was lovely, with a beautiful altar display, a brief sermon, a hymn, and a wonderfully intimate Communion.
LESSON: Not everyone visiting your church will know how worship works. They may be from a different denomination or new to church altogether. Be sure to announce which book to use and how to receive Communion. As my retired minister Dad always says, "Not making announcements is like inviting people to your house and not telling them where the bathroom is."
#5. Be Generous!
Lunch was planned for after the service, so I was invited to join the group. In true East Coast style, this small group of 20 people had prepared an 8-foot table laden with homemade sandwiches, cookies, bread, preserves, cheese, and biscuits. It was glorious! We ate and laughed and told stories. Knowing that I was stranded for the day, they asked if I wanted to take a plate home with me to the B&B. I thought I'd take a few biscuits and a cookie. This is what they gave me:
LESSON: Jesus was always incredibly generous with people. Instead of a few bottles of cheap wine, he made over 900 bottles of the very best. He created so much bread and fish there was baskets of food leftover. The woman who simply wanted to touch the hem of his garment got a full on face-to-face healing experience. Let's be generous with our visitors! Let's have them leave feeling loved and valued. After all, isn't that how we're supposed to love? "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."
I want to thank the wonderful people of St. Giles Presbyterian Church, North Sydney, for their warm hospitality on Maundy Thursday. You truly made me feel loved and welcomed!
May God continue to bless your community!
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