Some years ago, new residents in town, we ventured into church one Sunday. There were five of us: a set of parents, sufficiently presentable to fit in well in just about any club, and three cute-as-a-button children: fourth-grade Chrissie, second-grade Chuckie, and Rachel, my three-year-old niece who had just come to live with us. Just your normal All-American family goes to church scenario.
Noticing an area of empty pews, we made our way down the aisle and, the children arrayed between us, took our seats. Only later would we learn we had elected to sit in no-man’s land, signaling, for all the world to see, that we were rank newcomers.
The service went passably along, and after the hymns, they asked the children to come forward for the children’s sermon. Our three kids eagerly joined their compatriots up front.
The smiling minister had no idea. Nothing got past Chrissie, but she typically didn’t share any public expressions of her observations. On the other hand, Chuckie, while noticing far less, often recognized a need for his contribution to the discussion at hand. He had, for good or for ill, also inherited my voice which, unmodulated, carries to the next county. Rachel, tow-headed in extremis, had already learned how to get attention and how to work a crowd. She considered these activities her favorite hobbies, in fact.
In telling his little sermonette, the minister asked a rhetorical question. Chuckie, unacquainted with the concept of rhetoric, answered the question quite fulsomely. His voice carried to the rafters, of course, so the entire congregation received the benefit of his knowledge. Unaccustomed to a participatory children’s sermon, the minister none-the-less soldiered on.
At which point Rachel started to make faces at the congregation, much to their amusement. Their laughter fell on her ears as music, urging her to greater effort. Manfully ignoring the distractions, the minister continued by, unfortunately, asking another rhetorical question. Again, Chuckie leapt into the breach with a wonderfully complete answer, helping in the best way he knew how.
The rattled minister wrapped up the children’s sermon in short order and sent all the children back to their parents. Chuckie came down the aisle flushed with the success of having helped. Rachel followed, working the crowd as she came. Chrissie finished up our trio, rolling her eyes at the other two. Judging from the laughter, her silent appraisal didn’t go unnoticed.
After the offering, as the sermon began, the sun suddenly flooded through the large window–at least twenty feet tall–immediately behind the minister, blinding us. And we, just as suddenly, understood why that little island of pews had been left empty. “I see the light” took on a whole new meaning. Only first-timers ever sat in those pews.
A quick check revealed all the non-blinding pews to be comfortably full. I saw no indications of any willingness to squeeze us in anywhere, so we sat, unseeing, in the sun.
You want obvious? Between the kids and our choice of seats, we crafted an entirely new, enhanced definition of obvious. Nobody missed the fact we were in attendance that day.
At the end of the service, our eyes thankfully regaining their ability to see, we joined the others downstairs for the “coffee hour” so we could meet members of the congregation and learn more about the church.
Nobody said a word to us. We smiled as people passed by, but they hurried on their way without a response. We were aliens in a strange land, and they apparently didn’t speak to aliens. Or smile, either.
People cut a wide arc around us as they passed by, lest we accost them with a friendly “hello.” My husband mumbled something about deodorant, but I didn’t catch it all. We stayed for maybe twenty minutes as our children finished their snacks, but nobody gave any sign that they even saw us.
And that’s the way it is in many churches nowadays. So, if church members reward your attendance by ignoring you, don’t worry for a nanosecond that their snub is about you. We brought the circus to town, and the church still managed to ignore us.
Don’t go back to a church with no welcome. Churches with the phony-baloney volunteer greeters who crush your hand into instant arthritis, thinking that substitutes for friendliness, aren’t much either.
Find a church where people realize it isn’t all about them. When people attach as much importance to others as they do to themselves, they’ll not only welcome you, they’ll appreciate you. Then remember, remember, remember to pass it on.
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