Sunday, October 21, 2012

Feeling Unwelcomed

I've been a North-Westerner for seven weeks now, but haven't found a regular pattern for Church yet. This is partly due to work, being away for two Sundays, and dating a Local Preacher who preaches at a number of churches.

Today I went to two churches, as Girlfriend was preaching twice. 10.30 was in the little chapel a minute from my bed. This is a lovely little place, I've been visiting it most of the time I've come to visit in the past, and it's where I'll be going if Girlfriend isn't around. It's small, generally older, but they have made me feel very welcome.

Then in the afternoon, we went to another chapel, about 20 minutes away (Girlfriend calls it 'rural just up the road'). Here I felt unwelcomed. I must stress the 'd', 'Unwelcomed' is different from 'Unwelcome', at least in my head. I think I suffered from what I'm going to term PPS (Preacher's Partner Syndrome). We were the first to arrive, beating the key by a good 15 minutes, and when others arrived, they spoke a lot to Girlfriend, who was preaching there for the first time, but I got a passing hello, that was it. I took my place on a pew, tentatively in case I was sat in 'Dear Old Ethel's pew'. And no-one spoke to me...

After the service, the congregation all spoke to Girlfriend, and had their weekly catch-ups. I stood on my own, trying to check Twitter, though there was no signal. I got a passing 'thank you' for my part in the prayers, and then we left. And I'm unlikely to go there again.

Now, I'm not the most outgoing person (that might actually surprise some of you, but I can fake it if I need to). I cannot start small talk with people I don't know, unless I have a reason to (such as introducing myself in a professional capacity and can talk about the One Programme and Methodist Action). But is it really my job to do that in a church I'm visiting? Should the emphasis be on me to go over and introduce myself?

The fact that I was barely spoken to has really put me off that church. They weren't horrible, and they didn't go out of their way to exclude me or make me feel like I wasn't welcome, i.e. I wasn't 'Unwelcome'. They just didn't welcome me, I was Unwelcomed.

I don't want to be too negative, there have been many times where I've visited a church and felt warmly welcomed, and cared about. A 18 months or so ago I visited a church in Exeter for a meeting in the afternoon. I had the morning free, so went to the Methodist Church, I arrived about half an hour before the service started, but was greeted with a smile and shown through to the Church. I was sat on my own, when the minister came over, sat next to me, introduced himself and we got chatting. I told him about the meeting I was going to later. At the beginning of the service, he welcomed me by name from the Pulpit, and asked the congregation to pray for my meeting. I felt so loved!

Today made me reflect on my actions after church. I don't feel I have a home church at the moment, and don't know who are regulars and who are visitors at the churches I am semi-regularly attending yet. But I'm going to do my best to at least say hello, and introduce myself to people who seem to be on the outside of the group, or are sat on their own.

I'm going to give you a challenge for next Sunday (or next time you are at a church service). Introduce yourself to the visitor in your midst, try and make them feel welcome. Trust me, it could make or break their day.

PS, has anyone else suffered from Preachers Partner Syndrome? Shall we set up a support group?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

OPP Blog #3 - Training and the like

Last weekend was our second Connexional Training weekend. It was held at one of my favourite places, Crossways Centre, Yardley Hastings. Yardley is where we used to have our Youth Exec meetings back in 07/08 (that sounds such a long time ago!), and it was where I got to know the girl who I've know been going out with for just short of four years. So it has a special place in my heart. It was good being back, a slightly strange to not have the other Exec lot there. But I had an equally great bunch of people in my fellow OPPs. It was really good to see them all again, and see how everyone was doing in their projects, six or so weeks in.

It was also a great weekend of training, looking at topics such as Children’s Spirituality, Group Dynamics and Leadership, Small Group Facilitation and Listening Skills. I've just been for a meeting with one of the Directors of Methodist Action (my project) to find out about the history and context of the charity, and found myself subconsciously following the advice we were giving in listening, so I learned something! Another thing I found really interesting in the training was an element of reflection on personality types in groups. I am definitely a 'Talker', I am often vocal and not scared of speaking up in group situations. This isn't a bad thing per se, but it made me recognise that there I times where I should try and reign it in a little, and try and encourages others to speak. I'm going to try and work on this.

On a slightly boastful note, I brought honour to the North West region by winning the Yardley Hastings Kids Park Assault Course Race, though special mention goes to one of the Midlands OPPs, who was much more entertaining.

Within my local project, I have continued to visit projects and meet people. I have been at a few more Drop in Sessions, though I missed the one where some researchers from the BBC came to visit the Drop In at Lune St (Central) Methodist Church. The article can be seen here. I still have many projects to go and see, and have just fired off a few emails to try and sort these out. I'm also looking at spending some time with the NHS Homeless Mental Health Team, to get an idea of how other agencies work. I thought I would have a nice afternoon in Methodist Action Head Office  today, only to find that almost everyone is out in meetings today, so I'm sat in the kitchen catching up with a load of admin, secretly enjoying the lack of WiFi access and phone signal which is forcing me to be productive.

Other than OPPing, I have had a fairly busy few weeks. With 3Generate (Methodist Children and Youth Assembly) only a month away, I have been working on the session I'm facilitating, on Cohabitation. This has lead to some very interesting discussions about what people see as Cohabitation, and how some people view it. Like everything in life, it is definitely not a clear cut, black and white issues, but there are lots of grey areas (I almost typed, 'many shades of grey' maybe that would boost my search rating on Google). I also made to day trips to London, one for more 3Generate planning, and another to discuss the British Churches' response to the Kairos Palestine Document. I'll add some links at the bottom about this, but basically Kairos Palestine is a call to action from the Christian Churches in Palestine, challenging their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to work for justice in Israel-Palestine. I have somehow ended up on the steering group that is writing the response to this, again, challenging churches to act. I felt quite overwhelmed in a room with the top dogs of a number of charities and organisations who knew an awful lot more than me.

I think I've rambled enough now, and I need to go and buy pizza for a youth group, if only I was at Pizza Hut today.

Kairos Palestine Britain and Ireland (The British and Irish response)

Holy Land Encounter (My reflection on my time in Israel/Palestine in May 2012) 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

'Well you're not very religious then, are you'

As you may know, I've started a new job. Well, actually I've started two new jobs. As well my OPP adventures (which you can read about here) I have transferred with a well known pizza chain. As with all big chains, it is eerie being in a different store. It's strange and new, but also mostly the same. There are even some characters at the new place that remind me of people from my old one, very parallel universe-y.

My second shift in, and I met one of the deputy managers. He had heard that I was religious.

"Are you very religious?" he asked me. I asked him to clarify what he meant by that.

"Do you believe in the whole creation in 7 days thing?" I said that I didn't, that I believe that God's fingerprints are in evolution.

"Ok, do you believe in Homosexuality?" I followed with, "Well, you obviously believe it exists, but are you ok with it?" I told him that I was fine with it.

"Oh, well you're not very religious then, are you..." Now this got me thinking.

An (self confessed) atheist sees me as 'not very religious' because I'm not a Creationist or anti-homosexuality. Is this how 'religion' is seen by the world outside of the Church? Unfortunately, I think it is for many people. The fact that my other job is working with a homeless charity, offering support to those in need, doesn't play a part. Neither does the fact I try not to swear, go to church most weeks, and have a personal relationship with my God and my Saviour. Jesus didn't follow the strict dogma of the religious elites of the time. He worked of the Sabbath, healing and serving. He turned theological understandings of the scripture on its head. Maybe people of the time said Jesus wasn't very religious. (I must clarify, I am not claiming to be Jesus!)

It has been interesting following some of the media around the attempts to find a new Archbishop of Canterbury. I don't know much about it, but I know at some candidates are more conservative when it comes to women and homosexuality, others are more liberal. I don't know the theology of any of them. The world sees the issues in the church that often make the church look bad.

I think this is a challenge, and a great opportunity, for the Church. It's time we took what it really means to be Christians and get that message out. In the love and salvation of God, there is no Jew or Gentile, no rich or poor, not slave or free, man or women, gay or straight. All can know God, all can be saved. This is the fundamental of my faith. This is why I am a Christian. And if that isn't religious, I don't know what is.

So, what are you going to do about getting the true meaning of Christ's love out into the world?