Church welcome

16 Jul 2017 15:57[personal profile] maco
maco: white brunette woman with a white headcovering and a blue dress (Default)
This morning I went and visited the Skyline Vineyard Church in Virginia. I was very impressed by how friendly they were, and I wanted to write it all down.

Welcome in the Vineyard church

It starts with arrival. I had my Google Maps telling me where to go, but you know how sometimes it's a bit off about exactly how far down the block a place is? Handily, they had these 10-15ft tall flags either side of the driveway. I spotted them before I even saw the steeple.

There was a greeter (in a Skyline Vineyard t-shirt) standing on the front porch. "Hi! First time here?" He shook my hand and introduced himself. Then he opened the door, pointed out the refreshments table, and introduced me by name to two people who'd been chatting in the lobby.

I went to get a cup of tea. They had someone stationed to pour coffee and hot water. That person also made a point to welcome me and introduce himself. As I was putting the lid on my cup, a woman walked up to me and introduced herself. She handed me an envelope (8.5x5.5) and told me this is their welcome packet. She told me that inside I'd find a connection card, and I probably should've let her finish explaining just to see what she said, but I knew what a connection card was thanks to the Church Communications group on Facebook. She did explain a little, that it's just to get some information, and that there's space on the back for feedback and space in case you have something you'd like them to pray for. You don't always see those on connection cards. The back also asked how you found them.

Also inside the welcome packet was a paper explaining what communion is and how they do it.

The guy who poured the hot water for tea/cocoa and poured coffee also pointed out snack trays. There were a few round cocktail tables near the snacks to encourage people to stand around and chat a bit rather than head straight to their seats.

Welcome in a Friends meeting

Often our meetings are in schools and other rented space. Even in meetinghouses, meetinghouses just aren't that recognizable to people who aren't already used to Quakers. I'm not sure I've ever seen a meeting with a lit-up sign until my meeting got some solar spot lights a few months ago (so good luck finding a meetinghouse at night). Mostly if there's a meetinghouse, the sign tends to be simple painted slabs of wood, with text of an appropriate size for foot traffic or perhaps the horse & buggy traffic that was common when the place was built. The text is usually too small for someone driving a car at speed to read, though. There's one meeting I've visited several times and accidentally driven by every time. You'd think I'd learn to recognize it, but I only visit annually, so it's like I'm a newcomer every time. If there's not a meetinghouse, just rented space, then a 1m tall A-frame sign (like you see for advertising the specials at a sandwich shop) seems to be normal.

So, off the bat (and really, this isn't just me, I've heard it from others before, including about the one I keep driving by), if you've had trouble finding the place, you're starting off a little harried and maybe a little late if you had to double back and look for the building.

Joshua from Church Hoppers podcast recorded an episode after he visited a Quaker meeting for the first time. He tells me nobody talked to him until after worship was over. I can see how that'd be the case. (And ok, I've finally listened to the episode now.)

From what I understand, tradition would have worship start as soon as the first person sits down to worship. Traditional meetinghouses don't have lobbies. Thus, if you're in a traditional meetinghouse and you follow that "worship starts on arrival" tradition, the porch is the only place to talk to a newcomer, say hello, chat a bit, explain the way we worship, etc. Given a goodly sized porch roof and nice weather, that probably works out. Winter's probably not so good, though. You'd want to get straight inside where it's warm, and then you get in there, and no matter how "early" you got there, everyone's already in worship, and... well, this is where that joke about the newcomer tapping the guy next to him to ask "when does the service start?" ("when the worship ends") comes in.

At least at Adelphi Friends and Friends Meeting of Washington (FMW), people file in ahead of time, and then the start of worship is actually announced. FMW has head of meeting read out a brief explanation of waiting worship. Adelphi has singing (call out a hymn number) until it's time. When the piano stops, the worship starts. Both have a lobby type area. Neither is very big, but you can fit a few people. This allows more chance to greet new people than the old fashioned way.

I've been to a bunch of other meetings (Pittsburgh, Marlborough PA, Fifteenth Street in NYC, Takoma Park, Bethesda, Stillwater, Greene Street, London-Euston, Frome). Some of them do the first thing. Some do the second. Pittsburgh has a larger lobby area. The really small ones, I've usually been there at the right time to be handed something and put to work with setup, so I don't know how showing up after setup would be. Or, you know, I've walked in late. That happens too.


My first visits at 2 Quaker meetings

I'm just going to use a couple meetings I know well as illustrations, but I assure you, I've seen these patterns elsewhere.

I don't think I ever had the "normal" new person experience at either FMW or Adelphi, though. At FMW, I went to the little meeting next door because I was nervous about the huge crowd in the main meetingroom. Turns out you can be anonymous in a crowd more easily. Oops. At Adelphi, my first visit was with my husband, who'd grown up as a kid in that meeting. I don't think I'll ever have the "normal" new person experience at any meeting, unless I wear my hair down and go in costume as a regular 21st century woman.

If I'm remembering December 6, 2009 correctly (not guaranteed), then I think someone was at the door to Quaker House when I arrived. A brief hello and a point up the stairs to the room where worship occurs. Afterward, there was an announcement of tea/coffee/cookies in the meetinghouse basement. I went over, and I'm not sure I even grabbed anything to consume. I walked into the assembly room door and stood just inside the door, against the wall. A young woman named Lucy saw me from across the room and made a bee line. "Hey, you're new here, right?" Turns out we were going to the same college (I as an undergrad, she as a grad student). She introduced me to some of the other young adults. The next week I went to the main meeting, and I absolutely did not introduce myself during "stand and introduce yourself" time. That was a room with 70 strangers. Heck no. What if that turned into an altar call like at that Baptist church I visited with my family the week before? Nope. No way.

I don't remember much about my first time at Adelphi. By then I'd worshipped at FMW for 3 years and Friends of Jesus for about 6 months, so there wasn't shiny newness about going to meeting. Like I said, my husband grew up in that meeting. I don't particularly remember anyone talking to me before going in to join in the singing, but there are greeters, so that probably happened. There's a potluck lunch every week after worship. We hadn't brought anything, so we didn't stay (thinking it'd be rude). Nowadays, they make a point to say "whether you brought something or not, you're welcome to join us." At the end, just like at FMW, newcomers (and "returning after a long absence") were asked to stand and introduce themselves. By this point I'd visited other meetings and was more used to that routine. And we'd shown up with the intention of asking the meeting he grew up in to marry us, so we weren't worrying about the ability to slip away.

The usual

Ordinarily, FMW has someone on the front bench stand at the start and read out a welcome and an explanation of what's about to happen with us all being very quiet. Ordinarily, someone is posted at the top of the stairs, at the indoor entrance to the meetingroom. I don't believe anyone is posted at the wheelchair-accessible entrance or the other two exterior entrances to the meetingroom. Someone might be at the entry door that's at the foot of the stairs. (I can't remember) Also, it's been a few years since I regularly attended there, so things could've changed—grain of salt.

I don't think I have ever been given a welcome/newcomer packet when visiting any meeting. I know Adelphi has them, and I know they're not new. Maybe things were just a little hectic at the time, or they'd been misplaced or whatever. They do give them out now. Most meetings seem to go for "there are pamphlets over there; help yourself."

Some meetings also have the doors close at worship time (what it seems Joshua was expecting, since he was surprised to find his noise had been audible to the worshippers). Some meetings expect latecomers to open the door and walk in. Some expect them to wait for a particular time before they go in (especially if they keep kids in for the first part of worship, then have them leave for kids stuff). Friends Meeting of Washington switched from one to the other while I was there. That they're supposed to wait until a certain time may or may not be clear to late newcomers. I don't know how common it is for the greeter to wait until the late arrival time to catch late-arriving newcomers.

The Differences

Here are the two main differences:
  1. who bears the burden of introductions?
  2. when do you get to meet people?
Who bears the burden?

At the Vineyard church, the greeter recognized me as new. The greeter introduced himself immediately. The greeter remembered my name long enough that he introduced me. The regulars were proactive about introducing themselves.

In every Quaker meeting I've been to, the guest is expected to proactively introduce themself. "Please stand up in a room full of strangers and introduce yourself to us." In many meetings, everyone wears nametags. Do we rely on our nametags and fail to introduce ourselves? Probably. I'm pretty sure I do. I need to work on that.

Do we know our own communities well enough to immediately recognize new people? I'm sure the small meetings do. It's easy to say "you're not one of the usual 8 people." It's harder with a bigger group, but it's worth the effort. Greeters really need a certain gift for recognizing faces.

When do you meet people?


At the Vineyard church, the time before worship was dedicated to getting to meet and talk to folks. Afterward, people seemed to just grab the kids and head out. I did chat a little with a couple of people who turned out to be very interested in Pennsic. (One had asked whether I had any travel planned.)

In most Quaker meetings, the time after worship seems to be dedicated to getting to meet and talk to folks. There either is no time before worship or it's dedicated to a Bible study, Bible reading, or hymn singing. Joshua says in his podcast that he found it awkward to find his way through to the right room, discover the door had been open and his saying "wait, which way do I go??" in the hallways had been intruding, and then sit down silently with a bunch of perfect strangers and no introduction. The "good morning" didn't come until the end. Awkward start; friendly end.

Conclusions

I think Quakers need to rethink these two points. Well, I'm sure many churches need to work on choosing and training greeters well and cultivating a culture of proactive welcome. A lot of them are bad at it!

I know, I know, we're a denomination full of introverts (speak for yourselves—I'll talk your ear off, once I have a topic). But there's a difference between being introverted and being rude. If you're an introvert and find yourself face to face with a guest, spot your nearest extrovert and introduce the two.

The part about making people feel comfortable before they enter worship is something I think is worth exploring. Joshua said in his podcast that even having signs saying something like "please join us in silent worship in this room" would've been helpful toward making him feel less awkward/embarrassed about his arrival. Is it actually a theological imperative for us to hold socialization until the end?

And I know those tall flags aren't cheap, but a 10-footer is $200 if you have dirt to jam it into or $250 if you need to set it out on the sidewalk. VistaPrint's probably got coupons too. They've always got coupons running. Maybe that's something your meeting can work into its budget if it's having trouble with visibility. (Yes, Philadelphia. I know, Philadelphia. You have gigantic highly-visible meetinghouses. Thanks for rubbing it in.)

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Maia Everett

November 2013

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