We found ourselves visiting a neighborhood church last Sunday for reasons that are not important to what I have to say. It is a church I have no interest in joining, part of a Denomination that does not interest me. I have known this church existed ever since we moved to our current house, but it is kind of off our beaten path and I don’t know anyone who attends. Nevertheless, last Sunday morning at eleven o’clock we sat in the sanctuary, prepared for an hour of worship.
Prior to the beginning of the service there was a great deal of bustle and commotion. The small ten-piece orchestra and twelve voice choir was putting the final touches on the music for the day. We were handed a bulletin upon entering and made our way to a pew about a third of the way down the middle isle.
Other than the gentleman who handed me the bulletin in the foyer no one spoke a word to us. There were several folks standing outside the front door, a small group in the foyer, and a number of individuals milling about the sanctuary, but not a word of introduction or greeting. The pastor, already dressed in his robe, walked past me twice without as much as a nod.
I wasn’t sure if there was a problem. I had brushed my teeth and put on clean clothes earlier in the morning. My hair was combed and I even shaved. I don’t have any piercings or tattoos that some might find off-putting. As I looked around it was apparent that Sharon and I fit neatly within the demographic that currently attend the church.
Perhaps it was the wheelchair. I have discovered that many are uncomfortable around a person in a wheelchair. However, they will usually say “hello” or something else trite, even if they don’t want a conversation. But, in this church on this Sunday morning, not a word.
The service began with a solid ten minutes of announcements. I know God must been blessed and all of us felt prepared to worship after that – just kidding!
Yet, it was something said during the announcements that caught my attention and became the most memorable part of this experience. The church is planning a large pumpkin patch in the next couple of weeks. They put out the call for help to unload the truck full of orange melons.
Certainly fall is just around the corner, complete with Halloween and Thanksgiving, so there is a need for pumpkins in our neighborhood. The church has a large open space next to the parking lot – the perfect place for a pumpkin patch. I’m not sure that anyone would have a problem with the church providing the community with a place to secure their pumpkin needs for the holidays.
The woman making the announcement was quick to explain that the purpose was to introduce the church to the neighborhood and have the opportunity to meet and invite people to attend church. It makes sense. They want to meet new people and encourage them to become a part of their church.
But, there we were, new people to the church and not a single person welcomed us, encouraged us, or invited us to get involved. They did not ask for our name, help us find a place to sit, tell us about themselves, or even acknowledge our existence. It seemed odd that they were planning to spend hundreds of dollars and invest countless hours in an activity that would allow them to do precisely what they were failing to do already.
I wonder if churches are so busy trying to do big things that they miss the simple opportunities right in front of them. Many churches will probably begin preparations for their Christmas extravaganza soon, hoping to lure the community to come visit their church. However, they might be too busy take the time to walk across the street and get to know the people that live in the neighborhood.
It was an unintended message, but what I heard from the church last Sunday was if you want to really feel welcome here, come and buy one of our pumpkins. Hopefully they will carve a few happy, welcoming faces on those pumpkins before they sell them.