The recently published Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2014 Survey of Episcopal Congregations, found that 50 percent of congregations characterized themselves as “a warm and caring community” and 48 percent characterized themselves as “friendly and welcoming to others.”
This combined 98 percent is not surprising to me. Frankly, I can’t remember if I have ever heard a faith community say to me that they didn’t think they were warm and friendly. And as the Bishop, even in places that were very challenging, I still found them to be welcoming.
However… my favorite example of not being welcomed, in fact I felt shunned, was when I went to a faith community in a beach resort town wearing a polo shirt and nice shorts on a 90-plus degree day. The folks gathered in their suits, ties, and dresses clearly did not approve of my attire.
And then… there was the faith community I encountered while traveling, where the ushers were in jovial conversation, and when I said, “Pardon me. May I have a bulletin?” they both gave me a look that screamed, “How dare you interrupt us!” This was the same place that at coffee hour, even when attempting conversation with folks including the Priest, we were brushed off.
And maybe my favorite… was the overly gregarious greeter who began by introducing himself, informing us that he had been in this congregation for 42 years, and then spent the next 10 minutes telling us about how great the church was in the 1960s.
However, in the end I believe we are a warm, welcoming lot. I also believe we have to continue to be intentional about welcoming new faces into our community, because if you have not been on the other end recently, it can often feel like joining a group of strangers for Thanksgiving Dinner. To that end, what might be the most helpful is to encourage those who serve as ushers and greeters to, at least twice a year, go visit another church.
You may be also interested in one other factoid from the study, that is: most congregations report dreadfully low numbers about intentionally inviting folks. That is clearly something that all of us can put more effort into… because we do have warm, friendly, vibrant, faith communities who are using their gifts to engage God’s mission in the world. It would be a blessing to have others joining us to do likewise.