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?