Thursday, September 10, 2015

On Being Unwelcomed...

We've been waiting for you. You're the last to arrive! <insert annoyed face here>
{un·wel·come} adj.
Not received with pleasure into one's company or home: an unwelcome guest.
That was the 'welcome' - or should I say, the unwelcome, I received after a very, VERY long day of driving across the state of Montana. After learning how to drive a monster-sized motor-home. On the Interstate. Doing 75 miles an hour. And through construction. Doing 25 miles an hour. After promising the kids we would eat as soon as we got there to hold them over while we did a big grocery shop just a few miles from the campground. Did I mention it had been a long day of driving?

Our family went on a big adventure through the States this summer with a rented motorhome. Two parents, 4 kids between the ages of 11-17 and one grandpa. The first day we picked up the RV and headed to Waterton, AB, just a few hours from our home. The ranger welcoming us to the national park campground was friendly and helpful. It was a lovely way to begin our vacation together.

The second day of traveling required us to cover a lot of ground. Between twisty, turny roads that made people car-sick, trying to find the Interstate in an attempt to prevent being car-sick and construction, the miles did not go by as quickly as we'd hoped. And we were under some serious pressure. The campground at our destination had made it clear when booking it in February that the office closed at 9 pm sharp and we were not to be late. Under any circumstances.

After leaving Waterton by 9:30 am, we pulled into the campground at 8:30 pm - with a half-hour to spare! We were quite relieved. As I jumped down from the cab of the RV, a woman walked toward me from the nearest campsite where she had been sitting with a few folks. And, as she got closer to me, she said, "We've been waiting for you! You're the last to arrive. I've been calling you." Not:
  • Oh my goodness, have you been driving all day? You must be exhausted.
  • Oh dear, it's late, let's get you settled as fast as we can!
  • Do you have kids? Let me help you get them comfortable here so they aren't cooped up anymore.
  • Have you eaten yet? No? Well, let's hurry through this so you can start supper.
My Facebook Profile Picture
Nope. It was all about how we had kept her and her husband waiting. Even though we were on time. And, for anyone who knows me, being on time can be a challenge. So I had been happy and a bit self-congratulatory when I jumped down from that RV cab.

And then I got her unwelcome. Her anxiety, her baggage, prevented her from offering a helpful and kind welcome. If it had been an option to get right back in that RV and driven to the next campground, I would have.  But I couldn't. We had pre-paid for our spot and we were starving.

As we left that campground the next morning, I got to wondering about how we welcome people in our lives? Into those brief moments of interaction in line-ups or with store clerks? To our homes? To our church?

For anyone in church leadership, how people are welcomed at the front door is a concern. If someone new has gone to all the trouble to look up the service time and made the courageous step to walk through the door, we do not want them hearing, 'you're almost late, hurry up and find seat!' Or if someone has been attending our church on and off, trying to decide if we're right for them, we don't want them to be ignored because the Greeters vaguely recognize them and they don't need to be welcomed to a place they should know by now.

It is understood that there are three primary reasons why people in this modern age want to go to church. Because they believe in the God the church follows. Or because they want to behave as the congregation does--in outreach or social justice issues. Or because they want to belong. And you will not belong if you do not feel welcomed.
So much of welcoming is to be present, to be in the moment. If you are fretting or worrying or angry, it's pretty difficult to be open, to anticipate what is needed, to discern if someone would prefer to explore on their own or if they would like to have information offered to them. Whether they want to talk or simply sneak into the sanctuary and observe.

Romans 12:13 - "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers."

There is a gift of being welcoming--the Christian practice of hospitality. As Christians, we are called to offer hospitality to all, particularly the stranger, the one new to our community, the one looking for safety and security. At Symons Valley United Church, we find ourselves amongst several newly-built communities in North Calgary, a city of over a million people. Many residents of these communities attended a church when they were younger or are Christians who have immigrated in recent years to Canada. And many have never been to church. We have people walking through our doors each Sunday who have not attended a worship service here before. Our Greeters are intentional about acknowledging each and every person who walks through the front doors. We strive to make all people welcome when they enter into our faith community.

The challenge for SVUC, as I see it, is two-fold. First, how do we make known to all of our neighbours in North Calgary that we are an inclusive, affirming congregation that welcomes all people? And second, understanding how our welcoming impacts whether someone will return or seek out other activities offered during the week? Because, as I realized at that campground in Montana, just because you show up and stay, it doesn't mean you will return.