Thursday, September 18, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
Move forward a row for a new friend
Last week as I wrote about welcoming visitors and the natural anxiety people feel about visiting a new place, the corollary question of “where to sit” came to mind. All religious folk that I know understand that people typically sit in the same places in church, so when you are new or visiting, a thoughtful visitor does not wish to sit in someone’s spot. A good greeter system, I said, is the best way to put new worshipers at ease. They can then be shown to a convenient place—not too far down front to make them feel conspicuous, but also not in those “prime” back-row pews that are coveted and cherished by long-time members who sometimes had to wait years to nab them!
A column like this goes to the heart of religious feelings, so I was not surprised to hear a story or two from readers during the past week. With permission, I recount one of them here. A lady who lives in a nearby community tells me that when her next door neighbor invited her to visit her church, she accepted and attended several Sundays with the neighbor. Some weeks later, the neighbor was unable to go, so the visiting lady went by herself. She arrived early and had her choice of seats because Sunday school was still in progress. She selected a pew midway down the aisle. But when Sunday school was over, “a little grumpy gentleman” walked up and told her “in no uncertain terms that I was in HIS pew and would have to move.”
This is the sort of report that gives us pastors heart attacks! After all, our “livelihood” and a good deal of our self-respect depends on gaining new members, not keeping things “just the same” for the members who like things as they are—time taking its inevitable toll on a church that chooses not to grow.
But the next paragraph of my correspondent’s letter tells a story that makes the pastor want to cheer, showing as it does the grace, determination, and sense of understanding this church visitor was fortunate enough to have. Here is what she writes: “When I recovered from the shock, I apologized, got up and moved. That was 22 years ago and I have been a member ever since, the deacon greeter for at least 10 years and still love every minute of it. You had to get used to this fellow to understand him, and I won him over.”
Wasn’t this a lucky congregation to receive such a wise new member?
Of course, many another visitor would have been scared to death or so offended they would have headed for the exit and never come back. But this delightful true-life story illustrates my contention that good humor and forbearance will solve a lot of problems in churches as well as in life.
As I said last week, most of our churches that I know have plenty of extra seats. In the meantime we ought to be willing to move backward or forward a row or two for the opportunity of gaining a new friend. Who knows, they might be the one who will hear the message for the very first time. Isn’t it worth adjusting our sitting-place a space or two if that could happen?
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