Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Have a Blessed Lent!"

I have a new member who has come from a tradition which doesn't observe all the events of the Christian year. Lent is new to him. So he asked me, "what do you wish people? A Happy Lent? A merry Lent? May you keep to all your givings-up? Did you enjoy your putzkis?" [A Polish delight, like filled doughnuts, found only on and around Shrove Tuesdays]

I suggested wishing people a "Blessed Lent."

So how do we welcome members of our congregations who aren't as familiar with our ways as our long-time members? This is as true for our services as it is for the cycle of the Christian year.

A friend was in another tradition's church a couple of weeks ago, and while he liked using a hymnal (which we have gotten away from), because he could read the music, he was also juggling the hymnal, a book of prayer, the order of worship and a second songbook. He spent a lot of time figuring out the mechanics of getting through the service. Hard to pray or contemplate when you're trying to work out what book is going to be used next... And he is a church musician, who has seminary training and has worked with many traditions. Imagine someone who hasn't been to church in twenty years--if ever?

When I took my first corporate worship class in seminary, one of our major assignments was to visit, on our own or in small groups, five churches of traditions different from our own. What an excellent assignment! The experience ranged from exquisite (the saint's day service at the Greek Orthodox church, where the priest welcomed us as "brothers and sisters" during the service and spent an hour afterwards talking to us), to the dismal (the church, denomination nameless, where I spent the whole service and never got more than a "Good Morning" when I was handed the order of worship). And there were the ones in-between, some of which were like my musician's experience--confusing, but warm and welcoming... Very enlightening!

I've come to the decision that we can't explain too much. Even if our long-time members have heard the explanation of how to take Communion a thousand times, they can stand to hear it once again. Better that than the one new person be so embarrassed by not knowing what to do that she never comes back and feels uncomfortable at the very thought of church!

I've also decided that as we come to each new season of the Church year, I'll put a short article into the order of worship (in with the announcements on the back) about this new season and what it means. We'll see if anyone reads it!

What do you do in your congregations to make new comers feel comfortable and welcome, both to the service and to church?

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