I visited a new-to-me church this last week. It's something that every member of every church needs to do at least once a year.
The church I visited is an historic church in the historic city of this historic region. If I remember my Episcopal Church History, it was one of the first churches planted here on this continent. This church has welcomed people through it's hallowed doors for hundreds of years. The historic courtyard was before me, with the historic parish hall and
chapel across the way. The map of the campus indicated that I was in
front of the main sanctuary. Okay, I was in the right place.
I arrived early, since I was unfamiliar with the space. I stood at the covered patio area, near what I could figure was the entrance to the sanctuary. I saw two doors, one going into a room to the north, and one just caddy-corner. Neither door had a sign on it and the few women milling about were talking amongst themselves about picking up their packet of mustard seeds. I simply stood there for a few minutes to get the lay of the land.
Soon, an "usher" (his name tag) emerged from the caddy-corner door. Usher distractedly looked at a tourist with his camera in hand who was asking questions and distracting the mustard seed women. As Usher stepped out, I leaned in, "May I go in, now?" He seemed to suddenly see me and replied, "Oh, yes, please come on in." I was unsure what I might find. When I saw the beautiful historic sanctuary with box pews and a few other people praying silently while waiting for the service to begin, I quickly realized this was my chance to ask, "May I have a bulletin?" He seemed surprised that I asked, and replied, "Oh yes, here you go."
Inside, I found a box pew with a silver plaque, which said that this pew (historically) was for "Churchmen and strangers." I felt like a stranger, so I chose this one box pew. I'm pretty sure that Jesus would have been in this pew, too.
It occurred to me that during the whole service, I felt like a stranger. Oh, I knew the liturgy and belted out the hymns and spoken prayers with joy. However.... not one person asked me my name or why I was there or seemed interested in visiting with me. Don't get me wrong. To me, the church/parish seemed to be an active parish,offering a lot of outreach and education activities. I liked the expansive language used for the Divine and felt inspired by the two women presiding and preaching.
I wonder, how will this church remain vibrant, if strangers are not made into friends?