For various reasons, my first Sunday in my third placement isn’t until next week. I have had a couple of very fruitful meetings with my supervisor, so I have, in a sense, already started – just not been there on a Sunday yet.
Until today, when I decided to go along to get a pew-side perspective. My supervisor knew I was coming but had promised not to draw attention to me. It was mentioned in the notices that I’d be along from next Sunday, so the congregation were aware of someone new appearing in due course, but nobody knew who I was. That said, I do know a few folk at my placement church, so I was curious about whether anyone would give the game away if they spotted me.
The pew-side view is an interesting one when you’re in this position. You’re obviously conscious of how you are greeted, made welcome and generally treated. But I wonder how much more sensitive we are to it? By the same token, any newcomer is going to be very sensitive to the welcome they receive. It’s not quite the same, I don’t think, if you are visiting, say, on holiday. Anyway, I’m pleased to report that the welcome was warm and friendly and I was even ‘rumbled’ by one person. It’s an amusing story. About four years ago, during my first enquiry placement, I visited this same church and was greeted by this particular person in a way that I have, ever since, held up as a model of a good welcome. Rather than making me feel awkward as ‘the visitor’, they were the one who was apologetic for never having spoken to me before and now was a chance to remedy that. Today, they came to speak and said that they remembered, they were sure, having spoken to me before, but couldn’t remember when and that they had forgotten my name. Names were exchanged (only first names at the time) and I reminded them that they had indeed spoken to me, all those years ago and that I remembered their welcome. They then asked if I was doing the rounds of churches again and I had to confess that I wasn’t exactly doing that. At that moment the light went on, connections were made and my cover was blown.
Curiously it all fitted very nicely with the theme of the service today, drawing from Proverbs 5 and James 3, about how the things we say to others can, so often, dishonour God and how, with the Spirit’s aid we can put our tongues and words to better use. The welcome we give in church in almost certainly a visitor’s ‘first impression’. What a difference when the words of welcome we use are gracious and kind.