Sunday, February 5, 2012

On Being a Visitor

The strangest thing for me about being a senior is figuring out what to do with myself on Sunday mornings. For the first time in my seminary career, for the first time in my life, really, I have nowhere I am expected to be on a Sunday. The last two years I’ve had field education requirements on Sundays, and even before seminary I was part of church communities that would miss me and note my absence. With this new found freedom and the knowledge that my Sundays would soon be scheduled for the rest of the foreseeable future, I decided to take some time to explore a variety of congregations and experience different styles.

“This will be great,” I thought to myself as I developed this plan. “I’ll get to see what other congregations are doing, experience new forms of worship, expand my horizons a bit.” So I picked my first place, a small nondenominational congregation a couple of blocks from my apartment, and I headed out.

What I had not taken into account was how incredibly frightening it is to enter the doors of a new community. I figured, I’m a seminarian, I go to worship all the time, I like worship, this will be easy. I could not have been more wrong. As I walked up to the front door of the church, I felt my heart racing. What if the worship is uncomfortable? What if our politics don’t line up? What if our theology is different? It was a communion Sunday, what if our beliefs didn’t line up, was I welcome at the table? All these questions masked the major one, what if they don’t like me, what if I’m not welcome? I stood in the entryway frantically searching the bulletin, trying to gather the confidence to walk into the sanctuary.

In the end it was a lovely service and a nice group of people, but I learned a lot from my fear that day. It was for me a reminder of the risk we ask people to take when we invite them to join us for worship. No matter how welcoming we are, how hospitable, how visitor-friendly, it still requires a huge risk on the part of visitors to step through the doors of a congregation on a Sunday. I hope as I look ahead to my own pastoral ministry I can find ways to honor the risk that is taken by new people to join a worshiping community and to express my profound gratefulness to everyone who has the courage to walk through the door.

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