Monday, August 05, 2013

"No One Needed Me There"

This evening I had occasion to talk with a former Grace parishioner who moved away for a new job.  She talked about her search for a new "church home" in her new city.  She went to a large parish that looked like a good match, and she went there for several weeks.  But she didn't stay.  She went to a smaller, struggling parish.  I had thought the first parish might be a good "fit" for her, so I asked, "Why didn't you stay?"  She responded, "I felt no one needed me there."  

I know the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church is doing big-sky stuff for our church writ large.  But I find myself haunted by this friend's observation. 

When visitors come to our parishes, what are we doing to welcome them?  My parish has been working on this. 

But what about those visitors who come for several Sundays, so that it looks like they might stay around?  Are we giving them something to do?  Or do we convey a message that we're doing quite fine and "we don't need them here"?  

My friend's observation hit me between the eyes.  I think we generally do a good job of welcoming folks in my parish.  But in this age, where going to church is not socially expected, maybe we should think that newcomers want to be given a chore and put to work?  I know that's how it worked for me when I moved into this small town.  After a few weeks of inviting me to join them for after-church breakfast, they nudged me into "tasks" around the parish, and I loved working with and (thus) getting to know more people, while serving Christ. 

Are we being too gentle with our visitors, who might want to be put to work?  Maybe it's a "Mary and Martha" thing.  But I know it was the "being needed" and "being put to work" that solidified my place in my parish before I had been here very long. 

I wonder . . . 


Blogger Catherine said...

Very observant and astute post, Lisa. I think I will share on my timeline. Points to ponder, definitely.

8/06/2013 12:36 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Catherine. I'm honored.

8/06/2013 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, Lisa!

The problem of course is that for every person who is waiting to be included, there's one who doesn't want to be approached, and another one who won't wait to be asked but push their way in with sharp elbows working overtime!

The invitation push/pull dance is an art form. My own brother would go to a church twice, and if they were not friendly, he'd leave, sometimes writing to the priest about how unwelcome he felt. If he smelled that his inclusion into working at the church was that he'd make a great guy to mow the lawn (retired, plenty of time, etc) then he'd disappear quicker than a woodchuck hearing a gun being loaded!

I've heard the same thing you tell about from one person here, and what he meant was that he felt he had skills in certain areas and those jobs were already taken at the church he had visited.

I believe a gentle hand needs to be employed, and situations where one on one time can work best, such as co-hosting a coffee hour, or an invitation to a bible study or a pot luck supper. A lot can be done by saying "Let's sit together", or "I'll wash and you can dry, okay?" I think it was Howard Hanchey who used to say Evangelism is being asked to help in some way with some thing. Making people responsible for getting to know new people so that the asking will fit the new person's thoughts is the key.

8/06/2013 1:41 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Clumber, I think you got it right in your last paragraph. Or at least that's how I eased into my current parish.

BTW, I not that most of your negative stories involve males being welcomed (or not) into parishes. Do you think there's a gender dynamic at work here?

8/06/2013 11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa, Good question! I can't say for certain, but there might be a stereotype that men want to "do stuff"; to make their mark, sort of like dogs like to lift their legs, I guess! Also, male bi-peds are quite inflexible, I believe!

A few years ago (way before becoming a bishop!), I set up our newcomers dinner so that the vestry and wardens hosted it, making the food, doing the invites, and being present to get to know the newcomers. It might have been one of my better ideas - to take it out of the hands of the "Evangelism Commission" (which, btw, was getting tired of doing the dinner anyway!), and get the vestry to be the Welcome to St. Bernard's Church dinner committee!

8/07/2013 12:54 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for continuing the dialogue, Clumber.

Let me add this about my anonymous person. She's not an "elbow-her-way-in" person. She's humble, talented, spiritually deep, and fairly introverted. I'm certain it wasn't about ego for her. I'm certain she was looking for a way to participate in the mission and ministry of the church, and didn't perceive a need for her gifts.

I wholly agree with you about a sort of "walk along" ministry. I probably would have been turned off had I been asked to join a committee, host coffee hour, or some such. My my invitation into the parish life was like described. I was asked to help with hospitality in a "you wash and I'll dry" sort of way.

I'm impressed that your newcomers dinner was so successful. Must have been your bipedal charm! Here, I'm not sure if we could get newcomers to come. I think we need to be a bit "stickier" before we could get them to do something like that.

As you suggested, I think this "welcoming" thing is not a science, but an art form .. and a dance. Each person needs something different. Thanks for making me expand and refine my thinking.

8/08/2013 9:46 PM  

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