Today’s Lent reading brought me to this from Jan Richardson. It made me smile. It made me want to paint it, but suspect that working and baking and stewing won’t allow time for that yet. Not today anyway. But I leave it with you… it is a gift for you.
has been waiting for you
for a long time.
While you have been
making your way here
this blessing has been
biding its time
This blessing has been
polishing the door
oiling the hinges
sweeping the steps
in the windows.
This blessing has been
setting the table
as it hums a tune
from an old song
a spiraling road
All this time
it has kept an eye
on the horizon,
hardly aware of how
it was leaning itself
in your direction.
And now that
you are here
can hardly believe
it’s good fortune
that you have finally arrived,
that it can drop everything
to fling its arms wide
to you, crying
welcome, welcome, welcome.
Today was a day of visitors. At our early service there was a young man. The fact that we was young made him stand out for this is our early, traditional-language service and the majority of folk are of an age where they can get a free bus to church, if you get what I mean. (Actually we do have a father who regularly brings his three boys all aged under 10 to this service so that they can go and do sport or whatever families do on Sundays.) But this young man was unfamiliar with our service and our church. I did go to welcome him and asked the usual questions: are you visiting? are you from Falkirk? but he was rather non-committal and clearly didn’t want to talk.
When you have visitors in church you want everything to go well. It is a bit like a school inspection, I guess, and you want to show yourselves off in the best light possible. You never know – they might be sussing you out, looking for a new church. Now, its not that we’re desperate or anything but if I tell you that I’ve done more funerals in Christ Church than baptisms then you’ll know where I’m coming from. They say success in church is not measured by bums on pews but frankly I get to differ. The more we have in our little flock, the better, I say. Of course they will become much more than a bum in the pew as we get to know and love them, but its like any family – we want to share our love with them and just hope they will love us back. That’s why we want everything to go well.
It never does, of course. Something always happens to make me realise that God doesn’t need perfect. God just loves a trier. And the Lord knows I’m trying! So when the sound system decides to make a noise like a jumbo jet taking off and scares the living daylights out of those sitting quietly in prayer just before the service then you know it is going to go downhill from then on. I still don’t know what was wrong with the system and the fail-safe method of switching it off and back on again did nothing to help my own microphone which gave up the ghost. From then on I projected my voice (and I can!) and continued to put my hand to my pocket to stitch the redundant mike off and on when I would normally do so. Funny that.
Before the second service one of my lovely servers managed to re-tune my mike to the correct frequency and all was well. I am still left wondering who on earth removed it from the correct frequency but sometimes its best not to ask. We had more visitors at that service and as a result the readings on the service sheet didn’t quite match up with the ones we heard. This is always good for unsettling people. We had a new hymn which we forgot to announce so didn’t get a play-through first. Mumbling our way through three verses brought us to a rousing rendition by the last verse. (That is about the average for learning a new tune, I’ve learned.) I’d decided to try something which I do about once a year, and go for an imaginative approach to the sermon. You know, a sort of Ignation, imagining-yourself-into-the-story kind of thing. The sort of sermon you definitely wouldn’t preach if you knew you were going to have visitors that day.
Heigh ho. I love having visitors in church and I pray they will find a home with us. I want to say it isn’t always like today, but I fear it usually is. But remember, God loves a trier. And I’m praying none of them was the Mystery Worshipper.
I came across this Welcome notice from a church called Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community. I don’t know where it is but I’m assuming in the USA. If I suggested this to our Vestry here at Christ Church I’m not sure what their reaction would be, but I’d love to have that conversation and may just do that!
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, *NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!
*National Association for Stock Car Racing
There are a few things I’d like to add. Things like:
- We welcome those who are bi, straight, not quite sure, transgender, cross-dressers and all shades in between.
- We welcome those who are bi-polar, down or up, bewildered, confused and don’t remember what day it is and thought you were coming for a coffee morning.
- We welcome those with purple hair, those who can’t stand for long, and those who weep at the slightest thing. (We provide hankies too.)
- We love to welcome those who shuffle on their bottoms or who have just learned to walk and want to explore every nook and cranny of this dusty old building. We rejoice at those who can hurdle down the pews and shuffle all the hymn board numbers out of their box. We laugh with those who find the safety torch and shine it swooping on the starry ceiling.
- We extend a special welcome to those who promise only to come at Easter and Christmas, to those who come only for the great passages of rite: baptisms, weddings, Confirmations and funerals. We will even give you some bread and wine too if you want.
- We welcome you if you answer rhetorical questions during the sermon, if you clap spontaneously, and if you fall asleep and gently snore.
- We will give you such a special smiley welcome if we need to get the ramp out for your wheelchair, or open the double doors for your buggy. We don’t mind walkers, zimmer frames, or clattering walking sticks. And if you can’t hear very well we promise always to use the loop system. We welcome those who can’t see very well and can give you large print copies and even braille.
Anything you want to add?
I belong to an e-group, mostly made up of clergy, who discuss the lectionary readings each week. There is another e-group where we discuss anything and everything concerning church and politics and prayer and stuff. Membership is made up of people from around the world but mostly in the USA, Canada, Australia and UK.
This past week someone was asking for advice on what to put in a welcome pack for clergy when they move into a new parish. The responses have been coming in thick and fast. Here are some of their suggestions:
- Rectory cleaned and decorated in neutral tones;
- Rectory garden tidied and notes left on soil details, problems and successes with garden; any veg grown, where snow shovel is kept, etc.
- Odds and ends box full of picture hooks, tacks, tape, string, marker pens, etc.;
- Freezer full of casseroles, soups etc;
- Fridge full of milk, water, sandwich fillings etc;
- Cupboard with necessaties until shopping can be done (bread, tea, coffee, bottle of champagne! etc);
- File of local info (day that bins go out, best local carry-outs, recommended garage, petrol station, post office, map of area and parish boundaries (some even mark on map all the congregation members!);
- File of rectory appliances including meter readings (and where the meters are);
- File of parish info (congregational roll (including who is related to whom), welcome pack for laity, past 6 months worth of magazines, recent accounts and AGM reports, hymn book(s) and mass setting(s) used, etc.
I was quite impressed with the amount of work that goes into welcoming a new priest. Pity Mission 21 didn’t address that concern.
Now over to you clergy out there… What do you wish you’d known or had when you started? Want to share any horror stories?