This morning Maggy and I did something that we almost never do – we visited a church in total anonymity. Since I am a preacher most of my Sundays are spent with the wonderful Forsythe family. Often when I am absent from our home congregation it is by appointment or attending with friends. This week we have been in beautiful and quiet Townsend, Tennessee. There isn’t a Church of Christ in Townsend, so we decided to visit a nearby church named Church of the Cove.
Being a stranger at church is an odd experience. We ask this of the people of our community – encouraging one and all to come and be a part of our assembly. What does it feel like to be the stranger in a room where most everyone knows each other? I guess the answer to that question depends on the people in the room.
I am happy to report that we were made very welcome by the people of the Church of the Cove. I do not think I can report anything highly unusual about the way in which we were welcomed, but it might be a good reminder to every church. Church of the Cove is, after all, located in a tourist destination and expects to see strangers. Shouldn’t we all expect to see strangers in our assembly? Here are some observations I made this morning about how a stranger was made to feel welcomed.
*Welcoming people outside. Not just one prowling greeter following us with his gaze! Actually they had a coffee bar set up outside along with several people hanging out talking. There was a table of information available for those who wanted to volunteer to help with disaster relief efforts. So there was activity and when we walked up we did not have to open the door and wonder what was inside. The family of believers was outside expecting us.
*A genuinely happy person. I’m sure there were lots of happy people, but this lady was the one handing out church bulletins with a big smile. She was interested in meeting us, knowing where we were from, and showing us the coffee. She told us to take the coffee on inside with us if we liked. She pointed out the pastor (Darrel Wigington serves as preaching minister and an elder of this congregation; His wife Rhonda is their effective worship minister) so we would know who he was. This served to give us some context as we walked into the building.
*A warm and friendly atmosphere. I don’t know that you can manufacture atmosphere, maybe it just has to be genuine. When we sat down we had any number of people stop by, inquire if we were guests, and ask where we were from. It wasn’t just us. I would estimate that at least 50% (maybe more) of the church was up moving around greeting, hugging, talking, loving one another. There was no rush to get into a favorite seat and await the beginning of the program. It was nice, as a stranger, to be acknowledged, met, and spoken to. I’m sure that the most desirable stranger each Sunday is one from the local area to help build up the church. Even so, we were treated as no less important, being transient guests.
Yes, the songs were great, the worship was energetic, the prayers sincere, and the sermon was both engaging and pertinent (although extra long today at almost 80 minutes!). But what set in motion our being able to feel engaged with a family of faith, even though we were strangers, was the intentionally warm welcome we received.
I’m looking forward to being with my own faith family this coming Wednesday night. But I do think it was a good experience … and reminder … to be the stranger welcomed in. And to be welcomed so well.
Thanks for reading,
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