Welcoming the Guest

by The Rev. Dr. Jason Parkin, Rector

(if this article seems familiar, it is because much of the same material appeared six years ago in The Dove. It is never too soon to be reminded of how to greet visitors and guests to Holy Comforter!)

The end of summer and the beginning of fall is the principal time when many people begin to search for a new church home. People visit Holy Comforter for many reasons. Some come because they are long-term Episcopalians new to the area, and this is the logical place to attend worship, while others are taking their first hesitant steps toward or back into the community of faith. Some visit because their children are now old enough to participate in Christian Formation, and others because they love the music and the liturgy. Still others come here because of some crisis or sorrow in their lives or because they are responding to an inarticulate but compelling need or ache within their souls. But whatever the reason that brings people through our doors, it is our calling to be as welcoming and inviting as possible. Few things are quite as unnerving as walking into a new church for the first time, and not knowing where to sit, where the classrooms or washrooms are, who anyone is, where the Adult Forum or coffee hour takes place, and so on. Add to this the fact that the Episcopal liturgy, which so many of us love so dearly, is rather confusing to those not familiar with it (remember the first time you had to juggle a hymnal, prayer book, and bulletin all at the same time, meanwhile trying to discern whether you were supposed to be kneeling, standing, sitting, or doing cartwheels?), and you can imagine how daunting it can be to visit Holy Comforter for the first time.

It is truly important, then, that we greet, welcome, assist, and support guests and visitors in whatever ways we can. As July turns into August into September, please consider welcoming visitors and guests in the following, simple ways:

  • Introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are afraid-as we all are-of mistaking a long-time member for a visitor, simply say something like, "Hi, my name is _________. I've been coming to Holy Comforter for ________________ weeks/years. How about you?"

  • Or: "Am I being forgetful?  Have we met before?" The fear of introducing ourselves to someone who has been a member for 27 years is legitimate. However, it should not be so great a fear as to prevent us from welcoming guests. After all, which is the greater sorrow?

  • Assist people in worship. If someone looks confused over which book to use, or what page to follow, offer them your book, or get the next page ready for them. If someone looks unsure of what to do at communion time, explain simply the customary way of doing things.

  • Don't merely encourage people to join us for coffee hour or to take their children to Church School: lead them there yourself. Introduce them to others. Stand with them in the courtyard. Find Mary Johnson or a teacher who can guide them to the right classroom.

  • If you need to speak to a member of the staff or one of the priests, or even someone else in the parish, please try to do so at times other than right after the service. It is very helpful if staff, and, in fact, everyone, is free to visit with newcomers when they are first with us. We all have other opportunities to visit with friends and neighbors and colleagues. We may not get a second chance with visitors and guests.

  • Sit with people you do not know at the Adult Forum, Pancake Suppers, Lenten programs, the picnic, and the like. Again, this may be the only chance we get to welcome someone to the parish and make them feel at home.

  • Write a brief note during the following week to a newcomer you met on Sunday. If you are not sure of their name, or need an address, the office has a record of those who fill out welcome cards or the guest register.

  • Join the Newcomer ministry (Vestry chair: Rick Voit) and assist with organizing newcomer receptions, creating written materials about Holy Comforter, and other activities.

Let us honor our baptismal vows to "seek and serve Christ in all persons...and to respect the dignity of every human being." Let us welcome the guest and the visitor, the stranger and the sojourner in such a way that they will feel comfortable and welcomed at Holy Comforter. This is not the vocation or ministry of only a few: it is the vocation and ministry of all. Thank you!