Starting a new job or moving house is an unnerving experience. You exchange the known for unknown, the familiar for the unfamiliar. You find yourself surrounded by a sea of faces. They smile and say ‘welcome.’ But who are these people? And how will you ever remember their names?
It’s like that when you walk into church for the first time. And not just the first, the second or even the third time. It takes many months to get to know people and begin to feel at home. And if you find it hard to remember names, then it takes even longer.
Gradually, if you keep coming to church regularly, the strangeness fades. You get to know people and make friends. After a few years it becomes normal. Eventually you forget just how difficult it was, when you were brand new, to get to the point of feeling you belong.
That’s why it took someone comparatively new to suggest a way of helping us improve our welcome. Julie moved to North Berwick a couple of years ago. She threw herself into St Andrew Blackadder. She appreciated the welcome and the friendliness but found it hard to remember names and to work out relationships. One Sunday she would speak to a woman and a little while later to a man. It wasn’t until six weeks later that she discovered they were married.
Why should that matter? It matters because the way people are related to each other is part of the hidden web of information. When you are excluded from that web you feel like an outsider. The more you can tap into it and be part of it, the more you feel you belong.
Julie then showed me a church directory from the church her son goes to in Glasgow. It contained names and photographs. It was entirely optional. People in the church chose whether to be in it or not. They chose how much information they wanted to have in it. They chose whether to be pictured on their own or as part of a family group. Most people in this church opted in.
Immediately I saw the potential for St Andrew Blackadder Church. It would be a huge help for new people. I suspect those who’ve been coming for many years would also find it really useful.
How often have you chatted to someone at church? You think you know their name, but you’re not sure, and you’re too embarrassed to ask. Imagine going home, pulling out the directory, scanning through the various photos and being able to know for sure!
Or suppose you feel God prompting you to invite someone to something. You look out for them at church on Sunday but miss them. Suppose when you get home you could get out your directory, find that person and phone them up?
I think this kind of directory could help us with our welcome and our care for one another. It could be a tool that will help us with our ministry. It is something that will help us care for and love one another as Jesus has commanded us. For that to happen, people need to opt in. We need the majority of the congregation to participate in it.
We’re going to launch it on Sunday 5th March. A few people in the congregation have agreed to be included in a sample directory. It will be available then so you can see what’s involved. There will be forms for you to input your details and an explanation of how photos are being handled. I’m sure that when you see it you’ll realise how this simple tool could be a huge benefit and will want to be part of it.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2 )
For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread;
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.
And God will delight
when we are creators of justice and joy,
yes God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy.
(Shirley Erena Murray, Hy 685).
To see other messages from Neil, click on the appropriate month in the table below.
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