Monday, 16 May 2022

Could our churches be more welcoming?

DO you remember your first day at senior school? The mystery of the dinner queue,

DO you remember your first day at senior school? The mystery of the dinner queue, the strangeness of new surroundings and the locker which was too small for your new bag.

Those first few days are exciting but they also bewildering, the more so as everyone else seems to know what to do.

It must be like that if you try church for the first time. We are actually quite friendly in Ipsden — someone will always greet you on arrival and there is usually coffee afterwards, with homemade biscuits.

However, between those two points there is no escaping the service: just you, a service booklet and a hymn book — and a lot of people who know exactly what they are doing.

One Sunday I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. How do you know where to sit? Will people be offended if you don’t go up to the altar? When is the collection?

Then there is service booklet — it seems quite straightforward until you get to the bits where there are several options.

The vicar announces the option hurriedly but you, the newcomer, don’t catch it quickly enough.

Confusion sets in and you surreptitiously flick back and forth until someone highlights that confusion by stepping across and pointing out the place.

Then everybody knows that you don’t know what to do.

It can sometimes seem a long time to the next hymn — at least then you know that you have to stand up. The conventions for standing, sitting and kneeling must be daunting.

So how can we make people feel comfortable when they try coming to church?

I am not suggesting that we should change our customs. However, I am suggesting that we should try putting ourselves in the newcomer’s shoes. We could, for example, try worshipping with another denomination or even a completely different religion, just to see how it feels to be the outsider. Would we find that we wanted to go back a second time?

I find the idea daunting and I probably shan’t do it but if I did, I hope that I would find a leader who gave brief explanations and clear directions as well as someone beside me who could discreetly help me through the service.

Plus homemade biscuits afterwards.

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