Recently we learned that our friend and pastor would be retiring and moving out of state. Aside from being sorry he is leaving, it means our church will be closing. So we are on a journey to find a new church home.
But not right away. We have no immediate plans for us as a family to try out new churches week after week, but I do plan on taking each of my kids to a new place once or twice during the summer. There are so many changes happening for them this summer that I think it’s necessary for us to at least expose them to the process once or twice.
So today, Mary and I visited the first one.
I was hoping that we would walk in and feel welcomed, feel connected to the congregation as a family of believers and leave feeling somewhat at peace. My experience was much different from my expectations.
First, I have to say I am not good at greeting new people who have come over the years to visit my current church. I stand off. I don’t know why, but I do. But that’s not to say that I don’t want to be greeted when I visit a new church!
Mary and I arrived 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time. We made our way to the door where a woman was standing, presumably a greeter, holding the door. As we approached, I said good morning to her. She smiled warmly and said she was trying to keep the cool air inside the building. That was it. No hello, no good morning, no welcome, no offer of directions as to where to go once we entered. Nothing. I found it odd, but let it go. We went up the stairwell (I can’t remember if I saw a sign or not indicating that was where the sanctuary was) and into a large area where there was a flat screen monitor showing the set for the worship band and several long rows of seats. I wasn’t sure if this was the sanctuary or not, but there were quite a few people mingling around the area, none of them sitting, chatting with each other. Mary hurried me along, pointing to the sanctuary. As I got to the doorway, there was a gentleman standing there holding bulletins. There was another couple speaking to him so I politely waited my turn. I overheard them say to the man with the bulletins that so and so had “put him to work” and that so in so was this woman’s husband (the woman in front of me.) Clearly these were congregants of the church and not visitors or newcomers. They all pleasantly ignored me until I reached my hand in to indicated I would like to have a bulletin. He graciously handed one to me but never broke off his conversation with the other couple.
We entered the sanctuary and found ourselves 2 seats, not in the back row but behind the middle. We moved in one or two seats so as not to be sitting right at the end of the row. A few minutes later a gentleman approached, leaned over and said hello. I responded with a smile and a good morning, expecting him to inquire if we were visitors, introduce himself and make us feel welcome. Instead, he told us that they often run short of seats and asked if we would kindly move all the way in not leaving an empty seat. There was a woman sitting at the opposite end of the row, and he gestured for us to move. I said, “Oh, ok” and proceeded to move. After a couple of minutes the woman who had been sitting at the end got up and relocated to a seat in the back row. That felt strange and uncomfortable. The traditional “morning greeting” was a very reserved handshake and if lucky, a muted “good morning”.
The worship time was nice; modern worship music done with passion and skill. The message was ok but nothing terribly thought provoking. I don’t put too much weight on that, since the weekly message is sometimes more personal than others. This message, while organized and well spoken, didn’t really hit me.
The service concluded with a very nice song, and a dismissal. And that was it. Everyone got up and left. Some turned to chat with friends while others left but again, not a word spoken to me or Mary.
All in all I would have to rate this a 4 out of 10. I left feeling as much a stranger as the way I entered. Not a very positive experience…this time. We’ll try it again another time and see if it’s any different when we are there as a family of 4. That would be interesting!